It is 7:50 p.m. and I still have an hour to go before I can stop talking. My throat is scratchy, I've sweated through my shirt and my dry erase marker is running out of ink. The words I write on the board look like ghosts, and I'm a frizzy, melted mess.
That's what teaching a three-hour class will get you. I am six weeks into my semester as an adjunct professor of communications at a university. The work is challenging, as are some of my students, but by 9 o'clock each Thursday night, I've done my best and hope that the students have learned a little something. At the end of those three hours I feel like I've run a marathon. A one-hour class would be vigorous enough, but when you cram a whole week of lecture into one evening, it's both energizing and depleting.
The class has made me realize how little I talk in my everyday life. As a writer, I lead quiet days spent in that silent space between my eyes and the computer screen. After several hours of intense work, I will walk outside to get the mail and I'm immediately struck by all the sounds finally coming into my head. The birds break through the quiet film my work has wrapped around me. When my family comes home, I talk, but not like I used to when the children were younger and we all needed constant guidance and feedback. Dinners aren't necessarily quiet now, but they aren't the gabfests they used to be.
Few people talk as much as mothers of young children. Spending the day with a few preschoolers is like being the host of a TV cooking show, where every move is described and enumerated and analyzed and cheered.
I don't know if I could talk all day like I did when my kids were little. What are you doing now, Mama? Why, I'm folding the towels, taking each towel out of the basket and making the corners meet and then making it into a square to put on the shelf. See? That question-and-answer session would play out with every move I made every hour of the day until my children went off to school. Some mothers remember the preschool years for their bottles and diapers and toys strewn everywhere; I remember mine as a running soliloquy.
Teaching the college class has made me appreciate the people who teach our children every day. Do kindergarten teachers go home and not speak for the rest of the day? How about 7th grade science teachers? I wouldn't blame them. Just imagine the number of sentences -- declarative, interrogative, fragment, complex -- that go into a session of full-day kindergarten. And teachers still have to answer questions when they get home.
In one of my favorite movies, "Children of a Lesser God," William Hurt plays a teacher at a school for the deaf, and his girlfriend is deaf. In one scene, he and his girlfriend have a long, animated conversation in sign language. Finally, Hurt stops talking, saying that his hands are tired and he must rest them before he can talk any more.
That's how I feel at the end of my college class. My throat is dry and tired, but my head is buzzy with exhaustion, too. Talking is part brain and part mouth, and keeping the two engaged and running all that time is hard mental and physical work.
God bless all the teachers who have talked to my kids all these years. I wish them some quiet. And at 9 o'clock Thursday night, me, too.
Beth Dolinar is a former Riverside resident and Pittsburgh television reporter who is staying at home to raise her two children. She can be reached at cootieJ@aol.com.