There comes a moment in every teacher's career when he (or she) realizes that he (or she) is a spectacular failure - when he (or she) stares into the black, gaping maw of eternity and sees that his (or her) every effort at making a positive difference in his (or her) students' lives has been a sham.
But I'm being rash. Most teachers really do make a positive difference in their students' lives, and chances are they rarely experience soul-crushing epiphanies about their cosmic insignificance.
I should have said that there comes a moment in my teaching career when I realize that I'm a spectacular failure - when I stare into the black, gaping maw of eternity and see that my every effort at making a positive difference in my students' lives has been a sham. And - just like Christmas and the Fourth of July - that moment comes three times a year, when I read my students' course evaluations from the previous quarter.
A little background, for those not in what theologians call "the know": I teach freshman composition at a Midwestern university approximately six times the size of Portugal. My official title is "graduate teaching associate," which means that I'm not a teacher in the conventional sense of the word. Frankly, I lack the educational credentials to so much as read Green Eggs and Ham to preschoolers.
So how did I wind up teaching college students to write research papers on pressing topics like the hit teen drama One Tree Hill and the "music" of talentless Canadian hacks Nickelback? It's like this: roughly 280,000 kids register for freshman composition at my university each year, and - in order to meet this insatiable demand - the higher-ups let anybody with a tweed jacket and the ability to do a halfway decent cockney accent teach a section of the class.