I adore working with students, something that I’m sure surprises no one. They delight me, challenge me, and give me reasons to get through the parts of my job I don’t enjoy like grading and meetings. Students are the biggest reason that I cannot imagine ever accepting an administrative position. The idea of spending less time with them than I do now makes me deeply unhappy.

What has surprised me in the past few years is how much more attached I’ve become to my students. One of my theories about this is that the increasing age gap has let me be more of a parent to them, which enables me to express my fondness for them in a clearer, less ambiguous way. But I’m less and less sure that’s the complete explanation. I’m now wondering if it has to do with an internal change in me and my way of interacting with students.

One piece of evidence for the change being internal is the time I spend outside of class with students. It used to be rare that I would interact with students outside of class, office, or advising hours. The Discover Chicago classes I taught were the notable exception to that, but that’s not unusual for any faculty in the First Year Program. When a colleague and I created our linked-courses learning community, we included extracurricular activities at our houses as a part of the project. But beyond special programs like that, I’ve rarely gone out for a meal or coffee with students, and it’s been even more unusual to have students over to my house.

That makes it notable that during this academic year I’ve had former students over to my house for dinner three times. The meals were all great fun, involving my daughter and partner, and I would happily do it again with the students who joined us. The most recent invitation was completely my idea, inspired by a particularly fun conversation with the students during my office hours. And it was the most enjoyable dinner I’ve had in a long time. I was sad to see them go.

So I’m not sure why my interactions with students are changing, although I don’t think it’s a bad thing. The only downside is that I miss them more now that I’m closer to them, which makes letting go all the harder.