Many years ago, a long-time English professor and colleague of mine said something I've never forgotten. I was still teaching part time then but had three courses instead of my usual two, and they were all writing courses. I'd been uneasy about taking on the third course--my kids were still young--I feared the extra course would upset the delicate balance that existed between work life and home life. But there was also the delicate balance of bills and income to consider, and I didn't think I could turn down the extra money. We were about a month or so into the semester, and I was feeling optimistic about my ability to handle three courses and three kids. So when my more-experienced colleague asked how it was going, my answer must have reflected my naive optimism because he nodded and said, "Yeah, it's the best job in the world for about five weeks, then it turns on you." He was right. It happens every single semester, and I fall for it every time. In the beginning, your students are bright-eyed and eager; you're reading and teaching material you love; and you're full of energy and enthusiasm for this great career you've chosen (or stumbled into, in my case). You think to yourself, This isn't so bad, I can handle this. Then as the semester wears on, there are more and more papers to read and respond to, more and more department and committee meetings to attend, and more and more conferences to hold with students who are feeling just as anxious and overwhelmed as you are. Soon you're working all the time: early in the morning, late at night, and all weekend long. You never go anywhere without a set of papers: you grade in the car, in the bleachers, in the waiting room; if you're not working on papers, you're thinking about working on papers and calculating how many more you have to do. There's no let up--you feel like you're drowning. Then just in the nick of time, the semester ends, and you wash up on the shore, exhausted and gasping for breath. Slowly, you pick yourself up, submit your final grades, and start getting ready to do it all over again.
We are well past the five-week mark in the current semester, and I'm adrift in a sea of papers. So if you don't hear from me for a while, don't worry--I'm swimming hard for the shore!