I’ve made it through the first week of the new semester. It might seem odd to be posting this on a Tuesday, but that is in fact when the first week ends. When I was at university in the States, if my memory serves me, the semester always started on a Monday, with the date varying depending on the calendar. Here, though, our fall semester always begins on the first of September, no matter what day of the week that might be—unless of course the first falls on a weekend, in which case the semester will begin the following Monday. At any rate, September began on a Wednesday this year, which means that the week begins on a Wednesday and ends on a Tuesday.
I was on sabbatical last semester, so it’s been a while since I have had to teach classes. I was looking forward to getting back to that, but I had forgotten how hectic things get at the beginning of the semester. It didn’t help that we had a lot of technical difficulties along the way. My first class began at 9:30 last Wednesday, and when I logged into the Zoom class I was surprised to see only four students—when there were supposed to be twenty-two. I quickly realized that the problem was with our online class system, as it had been slow to respond when I tried to log in. I was of course able to open up Zoom separately and start the class from there, but none of the students had the Zoom link—usually they just click on the link in the online class system. The four students who did make it in had been lucky; one of the students told me that she had tried signing into class fifteen minutes early, and the system only responded shortly before I arrived.
One of our office TAs knocked on my door not long after to get the meeting ID to send out to all the students still unable to get in. There is a way to send out group emails to all students, but I wasn’t aware of it at the time; judging by the school-wide email I got the next day with instructions on how to do this, I was not the only one. At any rate, we did eventually get everyone in, and we were able to proceed. My afternoon class was even more hectic, though, as I have over fifty students in that class. But we made it through that one as well.
Now, on the other side of my first week of class, I’m looking ahead to the remainder of the semester. It is going to be a busy, hectic, and probably rather stressful semester—not because of teaching, which is the most rewarding part of my job, but because of various other responsibilities. I don’t want to get into them here, so I will just say that there happens to be a confluence of responsibilities this semester that will make things interesting. I know that I will make it through the semester, and that I will get done everything that needs to get done... but I also know that it’s probably going to end up being pretty stressful.
I was reading earlier today about something called “cognitive reappraisal” (or “reframing”). In a nutshell, it means focusing on the positive aspects of a situation, or building a narrative that reframes your situation in a positive light. The term was new to me, but of course the concept is as old as the hills. I was reminded of an experience I had at my previous place of employment. I had walked into the classroom feeling particularly beat and apparently looking it, too. One of my students asked what was wrong, and I mentioned that I was under some pressure from various demands on my time. To my surprise, he sighed and said, “Lucky you!” He then went on to wistfully say, “I wish there were people that wanted me to do things.” That shut me up immediately, and since then I have always thought of that student and what he said whenever I start feeling sorry for myself.
I did actually feel a little sorry for myself last semester, even though I haven’t talked about that much here. I had plans to spend that sabbatical semester abroad, but as the old saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray, especially when there is a global pandemic. To say that this was a disappointment would be an understatement. But I quickly realized how fortunate I was compared to some people. And although I wasn’t able to go through with my plans, good things still managed to happen during that semester. I’ll talk more about this in greater detail later, though. Right now, I just want to take a deep breath, gird my loins, and steel myself for the semester ahead. I know that good will come of it, no matter how stressful it may be in the moment. And I am grateful that there are people who want me to do things—and who have faith that I will do those things well.