I’m stunned. Seriously. It seems like just a few hours ago that I left campus for my sabbatical, and here it is already the third week of classes in the Spring 2013 semester. I’ve been officially back to work now for three weeks. And I’m already sick, and have already had to miss one of my classes (thankfully, didn’t need to cancel it since my partner in crime, Professor Kelly Thomas was fit and healthy!).
Put me back into the petri dish that is a college campus at the beginning of the semester and no matter how much antioxidant foods, and antibacterial soaps I utilize, it is no match. For those of you who teach, you know what I mean. That third week pandemic that hits every semester. It’s shear luck to beat it. Clearly my luck in this case did not hold.
You’d think I’d be upset about it.
But I’m not.
I’ve been away for months. I’ve had the summer and fall of a lifetime enjoying this amazing privilege called “sabbatical”. I’ve rested. I’ve relaxed. I’ve re-energized. I’ve done amazing things, like level my blood elf, Lisaralisa, to an 88, overcome my fear of riding motorcycles, continue on a journey of health and wellness and I’ve slept… a lot. Oh, and I’ve been writing a book too! But something in all of that has been missing. As wonderful as it has all been (and it’s been wonderful!), there was something that I have come to realize about my absence that has moved my re-entry from being onerous and difficult to a time of joy.
I’ll start by saying that it was clear to everyone, even myself, that I was burned out, exhausted and needed a break. Life as an administrator was very difficult and even my spring semester last year, when I no longer had the administrative responsibilities was still very difficult. I am the first to admit I was not a pleasant person to be around, and certainly not a good model for my students. I even questioned if I should continue being a teacher. I’ve been doing this for thirteen years. I didn’t feel I could reach the students any longer. I walked into my sabbatical unsure, unclear, exhausted, and burned out.
Thanks to several former students (you know who you are), I pretty quickly came to realize that I love teaching and I love being in the classroom with students who are learning, growing, and teaching me new things every day.
This became even more clear to me as I walked back onto campus this January. My first day back, I started meeting with students. My first office hours were jammed packed. My classes have been fun, engaging, and super interesting. Quite joyful actually.After just a few short weeks into my sabbatical I was able to notice that the one thing I missed was the interaction I had with students.
It’s all about the students.
The reason why I became a professor in the first place was to teach. I felt that my background and interests would translate well into the classroom and that I could bring a lot to students. Over the years I’ve had good classes and bad classes. I’ve had great relationships with students and I’ve had very bad situations happen. It’s been an amazing ride and my sabbatical has provided me with a real gift. A gift to come away, see things clearly, and remember why I decided to become a teacher in the first place.
My father was a teacher. I remember as a child watching him help high school students learn, and I remember him trying to teach me math (algebra was when we realized I make a really good writer). He was patient, kind, and met students where they were. I’ve always respected his ability to calmly and thoughtfully reframe answers over and over helping his students make mental connections that allowed them to learn. When I became a teacher I think he was proud of me. We talked about it once recently while he was in the nursing home and he told me stories of his teaching and how he was able to connect with and reach his students in meaningful ways. I talked about my work and I remember how engaged he got as I told him about issues with students. He would give me advice and we realized that we had some common ground, which is nice to remember. My Dad passed away on Monday, December 3. This Thursday would have been his 77th birthday. I think about this connection we shared as I walk into my classrooms now after sabbatical and after saying goodbye to this wonderful teacher and I am filled with gratitude.
And that, my friends, is why my re-entry is joyful.