I’ve always had this fantasy going in my head that I would one day retire, sell all my assets, and travel the country. Then, in these travels, I’d encounter a cave. I’d explore deep into it, walking for hours, finding all manner of subterranean dangers like massive spiders and sudden cliffs that look over the even deeper recesses of my cave. I would never leave. I’d set up shop in the deepest cavern of my private abyss, and slowly the deep would give me power. A thousand years would pass, and I would be a legendary necromancer that haunts the darkness. Adventurers would come to my lair bearing weapons and rival magic, and I would lay waste to them with my army of cave monsters, and then I would raise them from beyond and add their numbers to my undead horde. My name would be legend, and only those who truly believed they could withstand my undead onslaught would venture into my dominion.
That’s how I think of teaching. The first day of class marks the beginning of my students’ adventure into the horrible depths of my territory. They come into my classroom, which I keep nice and dark, and they are beset by my first villainous trials: writing in-class essays, intense note-taking, and listening to me talk.
The students who make it through this first leg of their journey into the cave are strong, but not all do it. Some turn back when they hear my voice echoing along the cave walls, screeching the contents of the syllabus and giving them concise lists of what to remember from it. Some flee after the first battle, but writing is difficult so I understand.
This summer, I started with 11 students. 11 people entered the maw of my cave. One turned back without ever saying a word, before even getting to the second cavern. He left after the first class and never came back. I remember the look he gave me when I was telling the class that they would be doing 15 weeks of work in 5. There was fear. Another left but only after seeing a battle in the future that he would rather not fight. He took the time to confirm that this obstacle would not be going away. The idea of a presentation, apparently, was just daunting enough to drive him out of the cave.
I don’t hold it against the students who left my class in the first week. They took time to see what the class would be like, what the strange teacher would throw at them, and they probably thought they didn’t want to deal with it right now. I understand. I never want to deal with me, but here I am in the cave. The rest of the class will continue into the dark. They will be the ones to encounter the worst of me. They will be the ones to battle projects I designed, stay present and alert in the cave every day–with 2 allowed absences before they start to lose credit–to stand before the unhallowed gate of my office door and talk through the revisions they made for their final portfolio.
And if they fall, then their names will be added to the undead legions who have come before them, the many that did not turn back when they still could, the dark roster of probably like 7 names of students who failed my class.
And so my legion of the damned may grow, and though some intrepid adventurers may escape my cave, there will always be more, and there will always be me, sitting alone in the dark, listening to gentle harp music and YouTube meditation playlists and glowering out the window. Maybe I’ll even wear a cape this semester.