My voice cracked. My eyes started to mist. I felt the emotion bubbling up inside of me. Something very special in my life was about to conclude.
The scene: the last session of a course on organizational behavior. My students were enrolled in an MBA program. All officers in different branches of the U.S. military, they began their studies at the Naval Postgraduate School during the summer of 2019.
I had taught a similar class before, to undergraduates. I find the subject endlessly fascinating. Nonetheless, I struggled at times to pique student interest in some topics. Granted, it was a required course for business majors. Many of them were preoccupied with their major area of emphasis. In this instance, that was accounting and finance. So I could very well have set up a three ring circus and most of them wouldn’t have batted an eyelash.
So I was more than a bit apprehensive about teaching the course to graduate students. Add to my concerns about the subject matter the fact that these students were just starting the MBA program. I had only taught students who were further along in their studies.
Finally, I needed to wake up at 4 am to drive from San Francisco to teach this course in Monterey at 8 am. So I wasn’t entirely confident that I could maintain the level of energy I usually require to teach a class.
Regardless, I could tell from the very beginning that something special was happening. I don’t have this feeling with every class I teach, so when I do, I notice it.
I know the feeling when it’s there. It's almost as if it's running through my veins. I experience joy, yet I can't fully describe it in words. It energizes and excites me nonetheless. I feel it swell up inside me as most of my fears and anxieties about teaching rapidly dissipate.
More tangibly, I see it in the faces of my students. I experience it in our lively class discussions and informal banter. They clearly look forward to the class, as I very much do.
I also know it when I don’t feel it. Not that that indicates there’s anything wrong. Far from it. I also don’t see a connection between the presence or absence of this feeling and course evaluations. Yet I know, in my gut, that there’s something intangible, almost ephemeral, that’s missing.
I live to have this feeling, specifically when I teach. It takes hard work to realize. And this magic is usually elusive and fleeting, at best. Yet there is no greater achievement for me. There is no greater high I can imagine to have that connection with a class for the duration of our time together.