Walking across campus today is sobering, thinking back on the changes I've seen since I first came, and the students who have come and gone. The campus looks like a campus, rather than the gravel parking lots that used to ring many of the buildings. Some of my students have been children of former students. Looking at the plaques on the wall listing the graduates, many names and faces fade, and yet others are alive and kicking in memories, and more are still in contact.
I suppose I've had more than 3,500 students in my career at OSU and UCO, and putting names and faces together gets more difficult as the numbers pile up and my mind gets fuller and older. Yet many of those who are memorable are cherished as friends. Facebook has helped reconnect with several.
The years have had another effect--I'm much more laid back in teaching now than when I started, wearing a sport coat and tie to every class, demanding strict standards from students. I'd come from the deadline-focused world of journalism into higher ed, and thought my students' success depended on my type-AAA personality.
Time has taught me that most of their education is up to them, with me encouraging, prompting, challenging, helping them think, challenge and focus. A tie is rare now--except on first-day-of-the-semester-intimidation-day. I'm looser in what I allow in the classroom. The standards are there, but I have learned much of what I thought was important is not so much that any more. That's why I don't like micro-managers--they're consumed by the need for control and a lack of trust in others. I'm free of that need, and treat students as adults. I'm rarely disappointed, and enjoy life more. I continue to hate grading, because those are artificial standards that don't evaluate personalities and individuals. The downside is that my grading is not as precise as it needs to be. Grading is a necessary evil, and I tolerate it because I have to, though it doesn't have much to do with education.
What hasn't changed--as my hair has grown thinner and my midsection thicker--is the continuing sense of loss, of passing time and people, as the classroom door closes for the last time every semester.