The Great Exhale (a.k.a Teaching Burns Me Out)

by Sharon Tjaden-Glass

I did something stupid.

For the past two months.

It started with the idea of taking advantage of my benefits as an instructor at my university. Because as a full-time faculty member, I get 100% tuition remission. Which sounds awesome. Except for the fact that when you’re teaching double the number of contact hours (18 hours) that most other faculty members in the university are required to teach (9 hours), you often work more than a full-time job just to stay ahead.

In March, while working with the eLearning department to create some recorded videos for my class using a lightboard, I learned that our university offered courses in “Technology-Enhanced Learning.”

Not only that, I could get a graduate certificate in “Technology-Enhanced Learning.”

For free.

I had already been looking at ways of taking classes in instructional design that wouldn’t cost me much money, but I hadn’t found any free options up until then. And I certainly didn’t know that the very university where I teach offered such classes.

And all of the classes were 100% online. I could do the work whenever I could fit it in my schedule.

It seemed like such a great idea.

And, I rationalized, It’s summer. Enrollment is projected to be pretty low. And I probably won’t be teaching the full 18 hours. So…

I signed up for two on-line classes.

Then, four days before our summer term started…

I was told that I wouldn’t, in fact, have any reduction in hours over the summer. One of my colleagues took an unexpected medical leave, leaving one course that needed to be filled. Instead of teaching two classes, I would be teaching three classes. And I would also be scheduled for tutoring.

During the same time frame as the classes that I would be taking.

A smart person would have dropped at least one of the classes.

Turns out, I’m not such a smart person sometimes.

I’m a bit of a maniac. Or a glutton for punishment, depending on how you look at it.

Well, I thought. Buckle up, everyone. Life is about to get bananas.

burnout

***

May and June were an absolute blur this year. Most of my days started at 4:15 a.m. (so I could run or do PiYo) and ended at 8:00 p.m., leaving my husband to put our older daughter to bed. But it’s still light out! I would hear her protest through my earplugs. (Yep. Still wearing those. Oh, and an eye mask. Because at 8:00, it’s still 90 minutes away from sunset in the summer.)

I worked on classes in small bursts whenever I had time throughout the day, which wasn’t that often or very predictable. Two of my very best friends came over on Saturdays/Sundays to watch the kids just so I could have some concentrated time to sit down and work on the class projects that required full, uninterrupted attention.

I also researched and wrote four proposals for conferences next year: MEXTESOL (1), Ohio TESOL (1), and TESOL International (2).

I also worked with a colleague on a paper that we’re submitting to an academic journal.

Sometimes, part of me thinks, Why? What are you doing? Just function in first gear for a while, for the love of God.

Then, the other, louder part of me says, There is no better time than now. Things are not going to get easier. Free classes in something that you’re way interested in? Lean in and be the badass that I know you are.

And so, I have been leaning in a whole lot this year.

***

The Final Boss of this summer was the last week of classes and my final exams. And not because of all the additional deadlines and grading that awaited me.

It was because of the fact that my husband traveled to Monterey, California (poor thing) to present at a radar conference. For the whole week.

You know what’s not so fun? Getting two young kids to school with lunches and diapers and sheets and sunscreen by 7:00 a.m. so you can be to work by 7:45.

I have to admit, it was my turn at this. He took care of the kids while I presented at TESOL 2018 in Chicago and was gone for four days. I remember when I came home, the look on his face that said, I need to go for a long drive by myself for a while.

But it didn’t make it any easier.

Especially when the toddler’s occasional morning poop explosion turned into a five-day streak of progressively more disgusting poop explosions at 6:00 a.m. that peaked in impressiveness (seemingly with the fullness of this month’s moon?).

Nothing quite like your toddler beaming with pride as he hands you his blanket that he’s been holding so tightly…

All covered in poop juice.

Here you go, Mama! You’re welcome!

***

But now, The Great Exhale has come.

I finished those two classes. (And I’ve started one more, to run another six weeks.)

I’m done teaching classes for this academic year. (It’s a full two months after all other faculty in the university have been dismissed for the summer… I’ll just leave that there.)

I turned in my final exams, submitted my grades, cleaned my desk, hugged my office mates, packed up my Erma Bombeck “You Can Write” mug, and rolled out of the parking lot, music blaring.

Quite honestly, I think I’ve stuck with teaching because of the summer break. As much as I fell in love with teaching ESL and learning from my students, the job really takes its toll on you.

Fall semester isn’t so bad. I can do four months back-to-back when I know Christmas break is around the corner.

I can do it if I take in one big, long breath.

But in the six-month stretch from January to July, I find myself (quite predictability, perhaps) gasping for breath by mid-May. I’m just sooo done. Done with the manic planning-everything-for-this-new-course-that-you-need-to-teach-just-days-before-a-term starts, pondering the next lesson, the next quiz/test, is everything copied for tomorrow, did I post the homework for that class, and what about that class, the student tracking, the student tracking, the student tracking. Emails about information missing from the student tracking. Emails about my plans to professionally develop myself. I must have goals for myself, after all. And they must be measurable and demonstrated. Performance reviews that leave me wondering if any of my exceptionally good work is recognized at all. (I could tell stories… But I’ll just leave this there.)

I think you get the point. Just sooo done.

And at that point, there’s still another six weeks to go.

To be clear, I am grateful that I have a job.

I’m even more grateful that I have the time off.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I know how vastly underpaid I am for my education and experience when I talk with my peers who are engineers or program managers, or even teachers in public schools. (Not private charter schools, though. That’s what happens when teachers aren’t unionized.)

Trade-offs, I guess.

***

So here we are. Another summer awaits me and I’ve got plans. Here are some of the things on my plate, each included to help me fill my cup before I have to go back and pour it all out again for next year’s students.

  • Web design and development class (online)
  • More videos for our YouTube channel : Smoked pulled pork, a breakfast series, and possible a series on different sauces, soups, and dressings.
  • Looking into creating an on-line course through Teachable for specialty sausage-making. Because, yeah, there are probably a good number of organic, food conscious hipsters who would totally pay us a nominal fee to learn how to make sausage in fifteen different flavors. (Tandoori or bulgogi or loukaniko sausage, anyone?)
  • Knitting something for Felicity for her first day of kindergarten (Because I haven’t knitted anything since Henry was born. And I have a kid who’s starting kindergarten?)
  • Losing the last four pounds (I’m on a roll, baby.)
  • Watching a series of lectures from Open Yale Courses, African-American History 162 by Dr. Jonathan Holloway. (Because it’s important at this point in our history.)
  • Reading books:

 

(Side Note: We saw WellRED Comedy–the three-man group who wrote Liberal Redneck Manifesto–when they came to Dayton. So worth the cost of tickets and babysitting. If you’ve never even heard of the Liberal Redneck video that started it all, you have got to check out Crowder’s video that went viral about the transgender bathrooms ridiculousness from several years ago.)

  • Experimenting with new graphic design software that came with my new pen and tablet purchase. What do you think of this?
Felicity sketching

I used two pre-sets here: “Modern Painting” and “Pencil sketch.” (Using Clip Studio.)

 

And with this new pen and tablet, I can do awesome things like this,

 

 

 

Imagine that sped up to take only five seconds total. Overlay it on an image.

So much I want to do.

Let it all begin.