Sunday, May 15, 2011

Discerning the Future

As I sit at a desk littered with post-it notes reminding me to order Cedar Point (amusement park) tickets for the freshmen class outing, glow-sticks from Friday's Academy dance, two wedding invitations I need to send in, a Netflix DVD I want to watch, two books I'm reading, a running magazine, a cooking magazine, a broken stapler, a rebate form from my last oil change, and a copy of tomorrow's Student Senate meeting agenda, I have to wonder: what will I do a little more than a year from now when I am no longer teaching? I never thought I could be as busy as I am now...and now that I'm so busy, I cannot imagine what it would be like to have a lot of down-time!

People frequently ask what I'll do after I finish my Regency assignment teaching here in Detroit. The next step is the 3-year study of theology culminating, God willing, in my ordination to the priesthood in 2015. After that? I could return to teaching in the secondary schools or I could go on to earn a PhD in theology (my field of choice). There are a lot of options, although I am pretty confident that whatever I do, it'll have something to do with teaching. The question is, though, "Where?"

Here's the thing. I love teaching high school. I think the students are absolutely hysterical. I think I work really hard and I put in a lot of time preparing for classes and trying to maintain a high-level of energy in my classroom presentations. I am frequently into my office at 7:00 am and I don't come home until 5:10-5:14, just in time for 5:15 community Eucharist. More often than not, there's something after dinner for me to do: sporting events, fundraisers, performances, etc.. I still get a chance to read, but it is often piecemeal and I don't get to reflect on it as much as I'd like. I miss doing research and having time for more heady, reflective, and scholarly writing.

This brings me to my other passion: writing and reflection. I'm not the greatest writer, but I do enjoy it and people seem to enjoy reading what I write. Clarity and precision is something I struggle with but, with practice, I think it will come. My experiences teaching and working with college students have shown me that college-aged students are able to engage material at a deep level. Yet, I know that I influence the high school students far more than I ever did the college students. Sure, there are college kids I got to know and became close with, but my influence and the time spent with them pales in comparison to the impact I can see in my students here at U of D Jesuit. The higher level of personal thinking and engagement comes at the cost of diminishing ramifications.

To illustrate: on a daily basis, I am brought up-to-speed on which kids are struggling with feelings of sadness or loneliness, which guys are squabbling over a girl, who is having a hard time with physics or English, which teachers let you eat/sleep/text or are oblivious to cheating, which kids are struggling with identity issues or addictions or home situations. The great grace of my experience these last two years is that my little sister is just 18 and I sort of get these guys: I can relate both as a teacher and as something of the balding big brother. I never had that with the college students. Sure, I knew who was trying to sort out a major or who was going to come out of the closet...but the college students tended to be more fully formed, more set, in their ways. High school kids are malleable, open to influence and yearning for guides and mentors; college students, in my experience, tend to be a bit more closed-off and less open to formation.

So while I feel a call to engage in higher education, it is more out of a sense that I find satisfaction and joy in research and writing, although I feel a similar tug in the direction of teaching high school. Surely, my energy will wane in the coming years but I feel like I could never really tire of helping young students to ask the big questions in their lives: Who is Jesus Christ? What is God up to? Why should I be a believer at all? What difference does faith make? It seems like these are living questions in our high schools, questions that we can discuss now but in a college classroom are more taboo.

Perhaps it is the case that academics of the future may need to find new territories to explore. Sometimes I wonder if there isn't a need for thorough, engaging, and humorous on-line catechesis that would help to show the relevance and reasonableness of faith. Once I'm ordained, I could call is something like iReverend which, if put in the right font, might evoke a sense of 'irreverant' which would be in keeping with my natural approach to thinking.

I'm writing this as much to process these thoughts (I'm an extrovert: I process externally) as much as to share with my readers sort of where I am at. My readers play an enormous role in my Jesuit formation, for I try to share things that I think you will find useful or helpful. I entered the Society of Jesus to help souls, to help people become fully alive and full of joy because I found life and joy in my faith relationship with Christ in the Catholic Church. I want to share this with others. Sure, I have something of a twisted approach and I'm not perfect...but I do want to be of service. These last two years have etched a deep love for young adults into my heart and I fear that dedicating my life to research and scholarship will remove me from the young students who have so marked my soul. When I think about faith, or doubt, or the relevance of religion, I cannot help but think of how this would affect my students. I don't know that such concern is always affirmed in the Academy, leading me to wonder if my place is actually to be there at all.

How, then, does one find the balance of scholarship and teaching, formation and investigation, listening and producing, challenging and lecturing, that would bridge these two worlds? What might be the frontier awaiting exploration and inviting a new initiative that bridges both of these passions?

Fortunately, I have another year of teaching to continue discerning the future!
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