It’s been a long, long time since I posted anything to this blog, and the reason for the long delay was the load I took on this semester. I have complained to people about how difficult this semester was, so I thought I would outline the situation, for posterity’s sake. The other reason for doing this is that I want to celebrate the fact that I made it through, even though there were many times when I didn’t think that would even be possible.
What made it so hard? So challenging? First you should know that I have a full-time job as Director of Distance Learning Library Services at Dallas Baptist University. What that means is that I am in charge of reaching out to the online and distance ed community at our institution, and providing them with library services equivalent to those granted to on-campus students. Part of that job involves maintaining a presence in the Blackboard course delivery system and maintaining the library’s web pages. We have about 75 pages in our site. I also travel to the various satellite campuses (we have 3 now) to present information sessions to our off-campus students, and I handle reference services for the off-campus and distance ed students. It’s a full-time job.
In addition, I teach ART 1306, Introduction to Fine Arts, at DBU. I LOVE teaching this class! My passion is for the arts of all kinds, and I cherish the opportunity to introduce students to the arts and perhaps even start them on a lifelong love for the arts. In past years, I taught one class per semester, and this was considered an overload, which means I got a little extra pay for doing it. Last fall, they asked me to take on a second class – one on-campus and one online class. I had taught online in the past, but only during the summer. I like the extra money, so I wanted to keep both classes in the spring, which I did.
The toughest part involved my ongoing education. Last fall, when I taught two sections of ART 1306, I was not taking any classes. Usually I have tried to take one class per semester, but I didn’t last fall because I knew there would be extra stuff to do when teaching two classes. But this spring I felt like I was falling behind – I could hear the count-down clock on my degree ticking away in my head. So I decided to take TWO doctoral seminars this semester in addition to the teaching and the full-time job. That’s what had me going crazy.
Graduate classes at this level require tons of reading. My two courses at UTD were “Reading Shakespeare Historically” and “The American Film Comedy.” Both classes required loads of reading each week. The standard load for the Shakespeare class was a complete book plus two or three long scholarly articles to read each week. The weekly load for the film class was slightly less – two or three chapters or long essays – but we also had to watch a film each week, which was time consuming. Not only did it take time to watch and analyze the film, but it was also difficult sometimes to locate a copy of the film for that week, and so I spent time calling around and checking libraries and driving to various stores all over the metroplex. I ended up buying almost all the films on the list, just for the sake of convenience.
In addition to the reading, both classes required that I prepare an in-class presentation with accompanying handout or essay, and I was also required to write a long research paper for each class at the end of the semester. What’s long? For the film class, 10-15 pages; for the Shakespeare class, 20-25. I think I wrote 12 pages for film and 23 for Shakespeare. Plus bibliographies, of course.
Another difficulty that occurred this semester was that I injured my achilles tendon. I had no idea how very very painful this kind of injury could be. I had to wear a boot and walk with a cane, and for the first several weeks, the pain was a constant presence. It did get better over time, although it’s not completely healed even now. But it caused me to miss a week’s worth of classes – the ones I taught and the ones I took – which made it more difficult to keep up with everything that was due to be completed.
In order to survive the semester, I cut out a few things from my life. I quit being the leader for a small group Bible study at church, and I cut down on my social life significantly. But I didn’t quit everything – I still went to church choir practice every Wednesday, played the organ in church on Sunday, and played keyboard with the praise band. My mom wanted me to drop these activities too, but I couldn’t. It’s not that I felt responsible as much as I realized how much I get out of making music, and I just didn’t want to give that up. It feeds my soul, and it was a really nice counterbalance to the stress of the rest of my life.
The end of the semester was the worst. I had both papers due for my UTD courses, and my ART 1306 students (20 online students and 9 on campus) turned in 3-5 page essays during the last week of school. So I had 29 essays to grade, 29 tests to grade, and 29 grade totals to calculate and post online, plus answering all their questions and complaints, while simultaneously researching and writing two very different scholarly papers. And there was Mother’s Day, my daughter’s birthday, and my sister’s birthday to plan for. I thought sometimes that my head was going to explode.
I can’t believe it, but I did survive. I got all the grading done and posted, and got both papers written. What did I write about? The Shakespeare paper was about the differences in the character of Desdemona in Shakespeare’s Othello and in Verdi’s opera Otello, which is based on the play. For the film class, I wrote about the ways that filmmakers have used sing-along or dance-along sequences as a way to move the plot along or allow for specific character developments to occur. My Shakespeare professor returned my paper with a lot of great compliments. I don’t know what my film professor thought of that paper, but I got an A in both courses, so I guess it all turned out OK!!
By the way, these were my last two classes that I needed to take. From this point on I will be working on reading lists and preparing my “fields” of study for my comprehensive exams. I have to put together a committee to oversee my exams and my dissertation, and I’ve already got two out of the three professors I need. There’s one other thing standing in my way – I have to pass a foreign language translation test, which I’m not yet prepared for. I thought about taking a German class this summer – I could’ve gotten two semesters’ worth of German in 8 weeks, but I would have had to attend class 5 nights a week for 8 weeks. After the semester I just finished, I couldn’t begin to contemplate something like that. I need some time off! I’m going to try buying and using a Rosetta Stone program, and I hope that will help me move along to where I can pass the test. We’ll see – I’m not very disciplined when it comes to studying like that.
So – that was my spring 2009 semester. If you’re a friend of mine, and you thought I was rude or distracted or uncaring in any way, maybe now you’ll understand why! I hope I can be a better person and a better friend now that life is back to normal.