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Feeling Fortunate

Today was another one of those days that when I sat down to write, what I wrote was negative. However, writing down the complaints made me think through some positives, and calmed me down. I’m not going to post the complaints, but I am going to post a (slightly modified) version of the start of the essay, because I think it stands alone and because it meets my current goal of posting positive essays. (I’ve also included the preliminary notes I’d written to contextualize.)

Screw it. I tried being positive. But I don’t feel positive. So here’s an essay that reflects my current state of mind. It’s clear that I won’t get any real work done today until I write it. [1]

You may recall a recent essay in which I started with my negative day and ended on a positive note. You’ll probably find that this essay does the opposite; it starts very positive and ends very negative. [2]

I love teaching at Grinnell. I love my students, who are, by and large, smart, committed, multi-talented, genuinely nice people. I love my faculty colleagues, who are, by and large, brilliant, thoughtful, multi-talented people committed to the mission of the institution. I also love my non-faculty colleagues, who are also, by and large, wonderful, thoughtful, and committed to the mission of the institution. I love that Grinnell has the resources to support students who could not otherwise afford a small liberal-arts education. (William likes to joke that even with his national merit scholarship and our 90% tuition reduction for faculty and staff, he still gets less than the average financial aid award at Grinnell, which was $45K last year.)

I also love the particulars of my job. I so appreciate that my primary responsibility is helping students discover the wonder of CS (or of thinking closely about technology, or of thinking statistically, or just generally of being a college student). I really love computer science, a field which gives me the opportunity to address interesting problems, to create things that have a function, and to create things that can change how people work. I like that, as a faculty member, I have some control over what I do (or at least when I do it; if I had more control, I’d work fewer hours). And seeing what I’ve helped empowered students to do just thrills me. (Knowing that I’ve also helped to build a successfully inclusive community of students also thrills me.) I love hearing from our alums about what they’ve done.

I love knowing that I make a difference.

I love the support that I get from across campus in doing what I do. I love that I know that when I tell someone about a new teaching approach, they will not only be supportive, but help me think through it better. I love that when I ask for financial support for things that I think are important (e.g., helping students attend conferences), I can often find at least partial support.

Plus, I get paid moderately well. (My definition of moderately well: Although I make less than at least one new graduate each year, I think I still make more than like 90% of the country.) Among other things, that means I can donate back to the College to support the things I think are important but that the College can’t reasonably support for every department [3].

I know that relatively few people are able to pursue their calling in life. And I know that not all people who choose to pursue their calling are adequately compensated. Probably even fewer can do so in an environment where large numbers of people share similar callings. Sometimes I can’t believe how fortunate I am [4].

[1] That statement was (mostly) correct. I was fuming. Sitting down and writing the essay helped me calm down. It was incorrect in that I didn’t have to write the whole essay, just the first part and then some of the second half.

[2] Since I have dropped the second half of the essay, you won’t find that it has that flow. I’ll still write the followup essay at some point.

[3] Michelle will say that it also allows me to buy too many books and other stuff which clutter our lives.

[4] I’m even more fortunate that I have a wonderful wife and three totally spectacular sons.

Version 1.0 of 2016-09-14.