We've all heard the saying, "If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it." Well, last fall was the most overwhelming semester I’ve experienced in many years. I took on a new administrative position, and while the previous director had done an admirable job preparing me, I still experienced a steep learning curve as I negotiated the tasks of running our campus’s teaching center. Instead of taking a course release, I decided to keep a full teaching load (three writing-intensive courses), in addition to co-directing a campus teaching scholars program, co-editing a book, and serving on various committees. Inspired by columnist Kerry Ann Rockquemore, I also joined an online academic writing support group http://www.academicladder.com/ and committed myself to working on my book every single day.
Like many ill-conceived plans, it all seemed doable on paper. However, I quickly started to feel swamped by my new administrative duties. I struggled to keep up with the paperwork and was always running to make it to class on time. I stopped exercising and I began drinking coffee for the first time since college. Halfway through the semester I began to get a wild-eyed look.
My husband is in the process of starting a new business, which means that he works day and night, but money is scarce. With both of us stressed, the tension in our marriage increased and more than once I walked into my office already in tears from an early-morning argument. I started sleeping more, in part because I dreaded waking up and facing the day.
Needless to say, I found myself with a lot less time to prepare for class, mull over assignments, or rethink lectures. Not having time or energy to construct an elaborate teaching persona, I was just myself in the classroom. Amid my semester-from-hell, I began to see the classroom as a sanctuary from my stressed-out, multi-tasking, rushed life. For that hour I had to slow down and focus. I craved joy, so I created it in the classroom.
When I got my fall student evaluations I was (as always) nervous to read them. Few professions solicit the same amount of anonymous feedback, and it's always unnerving to face these because we have absolutely no control over what they write. Let’s face it, the students could write anything. I had assigned a lot of work, failed some students, and made lots of bad jokes.
Here's the shocker: my course evaluations were stellar, the highest in my 18 years of teaching -- almost flawless. My students rated my teaching higher than when I had labored over each assignment, prepared endlessly, second-guessed and double-checked my lectures, and carefully chosen my wardrobe. And while student evaluations are just one measure of a course's success, it was a revelation to hear from my students that what I gave them was enough, that I couldn't have done any better.