Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Late this morning I stopped for about a minute on the landing midway between the ground and the second floor in the stairwell at the far east end of Robinson Hall. I leaned against the wall and let the cold yellow brick rub into my back. I breathed deeply, hung my head, and closed my eyes. For a few minutes then I felt like crying. Then it passed.

I've often felt overwhelmed lately, what with four preps (i.e., teaching four different courses this term), a book draft due in dwindlingly few weeks, and an ever-growing glut of REU applications piling up in my in-box...the budget situation doesn't help, and I'm increasingly annoyed by the website migration, committee governance responsibilities, and the almost farcically bureaucratic assessment-related demands on my time brought about by the university's upcoming reaccreditation site visit. (Do I really need to write another impact statement? How long before we've simply assessed ourselves to death?)

I think perhaps what's most stressing and distressing to me lately (and may even be the root cause of the passionlessness I've lately expressed for my discipline?) is the distance I seem to have drifted from the aspect of my job I enjoy the most: hands-on, one-on-one work with my students. I don't feel like I get as much of that work as I used to, but when I do it's effect is as if godsent.

I had a few refreshing moments today. Kip, Kamryn, and Miriam all took me up on the offer I made my 280 students yesterday: I encouraged them each to come by and conference with me about the comments I made on their most recent homework assignments. Such conferences give me a chance to contextualize the issues I found in their writing, and to offer them more substantial guidance as they develop as writers and provers. The conferences also give them a chance to ask questions, to probe more deeply the problems I posed to them, and to get help on putting together new proofs that build on the old ones they've put in place before.

Every one of the conferences I had today was a helpful one, at least for me. Every one helped me normalize my expectations with those of the student I met; every one helped me better understand each student's weaknesses and strengths. (For instance, one fears being a "fraud" or an "impostor" because her strongest proof mimicked one we'd done together as a class.) I now feel as though I know each student who met with me just a little bit better than I know any of their classmates.

Moreover, as I hinted above, these conferences gave me a much-needed connection to the most meaningful aspect of my work I've too often felt missing lately. Meeting with these 280 folks, and strolling through the Math Lab and helping out with the odd trig-sub integral, really helped me get over my morning's mini-breakdown. I hope I was able to help a few other folks to wrestle down a few of their own personal demons.

We're all stressed, I can tell. But we're none of us alone. Let's all lean on each other. I'll slay your dragons if you slay mine. Together we'll make it through.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really appreciated your post today. It's nice to know that others occasionally feel overwhelmed also. Thanks for sharing!