So, one wouldn't think, after my post of a couple of days ago, that I would write something like this. But after having taken a couple of days break from grading (too much other stuff to do) I'm back at it, and this time getting warm fuzzies. What is exciting (now that I've gotten past the initial bad papers--I'm sure there are more to come) is to see students learning and writing about things that interest them. We gave them a variety of paper topics and the option to do what they are interested in rather than the "formula" paper, and, although I'm nervous about grading our "creative options" (I've set those aside for last), it's such a joy to read those few stellar papers that are almost perfect: well written, well-researched, intelligently thought out, engaging.... I just wrote on one paper, "I've been reading dozens of papers tonight, and it's so pleasurable to come across a paper that I not only enjoy reading but from which I learn something. You write very well..." On another (a student I know was just accepted into grad school), I wrote "You already sound like a graduate student!"
This is why we teach, I suppose, for those brief moments of joy when we see students synthesizing and connecting with what they are learning. You see all those sources in their works cited, and you think, "They know this now." This is now a part of their knowledge. Perhaps they will bring up the points they've cited in this paper in conversation with family and friends in related conversations.... And in the exceptional papers, you think "I just learned something new." And that is exciting.
I also have students post a comment or question on the readings or lectures to an email listserve once a week, and, despite a few mid-semester evaluation grumbles (most like it; a few don't), it always gets progressively better throughout the semester. I love seeing them think through things and using the tools they've learned to better analyze what they are reading and hearing.
So, even though I have about 50 more papers to grade and even though I'm stressed out of my mind because my prelims dates have been set for January 16 and 18 (sooner than I was planning--I'm not at all ready), I'm happy, sitting here at my kitchen table with papers all around me--sorted into various grades. I'm happy because I have 70+ students, who I really like even if I do still forget their names sometimes, most of whom are smart and interested in Africa. And if some of them still use the word "tribe" and "native," well, hopefully they'll remember my comments on their papers.... WWWD.