If you heard our interview with Erin Bartram on Episode 37 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast you will, at times, hear the pain in her voice as she comes to the end of her career as an academic historian. Many of us know Bartram as a gifted historian and teacher who announced she was leaving academia in her powerful essay “The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind.” If you have not read it, I encourage you to do so. Then go to the podcast and listen to our conversation about it.
In her recent piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Bartram reflects on leaving her students behind. Here is a taste:
If you decide to tell students that you’re leaving academe, you will face the inevitable questions about why, and what you plan to do next. You may have made your decision to leave months earlier, but explaining it now — even if you think you have come to terms with it — can be stressful. Your students’ reactions may well bring up emotions you thought you’d dealt with.
This is also a situation where bureaucratic slip-ups — endemic in large institutions especially — can make things worse. Say, for example, that the registrar or the bookstore uses software that automatically populates the next semester’s courses with the names of the faculty members who most recently taught them. A departing scholar can find herself forced to explain to eager students that no, she won’t be teaching here next semester, and no, she isn’t going to be a professor anymore, and yes, she wishes things were different.
When you tell them you’re leaving, students may tell you how they’d hoped to take such-and-such course with you next year, or how they always thought you’d advise their honors thesis when they were seniors. They may cry and get upset and ask you to stay or at least not give up on the career itself.
And when any of these students persist in asking why you can’t just keep trying, it’s OK to be blunt and tell them exactly why. You don’t need to give a multipoint analysis of the dismal faculty-job market, but you shouldn’t feel that you have to downplay what has happened to you.
It can be hard to bear the emotional weight of their reactions along with your own. Think about that as you approach how and when to tell your students about your departure.
Read the entire piece here.
What strikes me most about this piece is the fact that we are losing someone with a passion for teaching history and a love for students. Believe it or not, you don’t often find this kind of passion in academia.