Saturday, September 28, 2013

Finding a Balance

Guest Blogger:  William Donohue

As I sit in my office, on a beautiful autumn afternoon, writing this blog, I have a moment of calm to what has been a chaotic week—both professionally and personally, some my doing, others beyond my control. This has not been a typical week (is there such a thing?), but a few times every semester there is a perfect storm of so much going on that I can’t catch my breath.

The question that I want to ask, and that I look forward to reading about in the comments, is how do others find balance in their lives during the sprint that is a semester of teaching? How do people in The Lincoln University Community find motivation to keep going?
To illuminate my week, here are some snippets:
 Monday, 8:45 a.m.: The power to University Hall mercifully comes back on as I am setting up for the first of 28 student conferences of the day and preparing a backup plan to take written notes that I can transcribe to the computer later.
Sunday, 7:30 a.m.: After making coffee and tuning in to WXPN, I take a draft to read from the pile of the 150 drafts (2 per ENG 099 student) that I will discuss with students in their one-on-one conference.
Monday, 11:15 a.m.: Power goes back out; I hope that I saved the Excel document with the notes about individual student issues taken during the morning conferences.
Tuesday, 4:30 a.m.: My 15-week-old son, Sawyer, the first child for my wife and me, decides it is time to get up and start the day.
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, around midnight: I fall asleep reading a student draft and decide that it is time to go to bed
Tuesday, 12:30 p.m.: I am halfway through the student conferences and although I have explained “run on sentences” in most of them, showing each student seems to help them understand.
Thursday, 7:30 p.m.: A device called “The Snot Sucker” is put to use on Sawyer’s nose while my wife holds him and I suck.
Friday, 9:06 a.m.: I find most of my students it the library after they followed a handwritten note taped to the classroom door saying “Class Is Meeting At The Library ACC. Information System Ask Help Desk For Direction.” I lead them back to our classroom, and we discuss revision.
Monday, 3:08 p.m.: “Cherish life,” says a student in my ENG 102 class.
Monday, 3:07 p.m.: I ask the question, “In the play Our Town, what does Emily’s ghost mean when she says ‘They don’t—understand—do they?’
Wednesday, 1:10 p.m.: I can see the light at the end of student conference tunnel and I am exhausted. But I am reminded of the words of the great composition teacher Donald Murray, who wrote of writing conferences, “I am tired, but it is a good tired, for my students have generated energy as well as absorbed it.”
Wednesday, 4:15 p.m.: While watching the end of a documentary titled OT:Our Town about students from Dominguez High School in Compton, CA, who put on the school’s first play in 20 years, I tear up a little when the student playing Emily says, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute.”
Tuesday, 5:45 a.m.: Sawyer falls back asleep with his head on my shoulder.


  1. Poor Bill! Congratulations on having your first child! I assume you will have nine more!

    I'm afraid I don't have a good answer to your question or questions, particularly under current local and national as well as international conditions; yet I feel obliged to attempt an answer.

    Q: The question that I want to ask, and that I look forward to reading about in the comments, is how do others find balance in their lives during the sprint that is a semester of teaching?
    A: I don't find balance; at least, I haven't found it yet.

    It may be a mirage; though, I think, if I could find time to write more and publish more as well as travel more (without going through lengthy and intrusive airport security while not being scared of terrorism), I would find some balance. It may be wishful thinking; but it may be an experiment worth conducting.

    Q: How do people in The Lincoln University Community find motivation to keep going?
    A: I don't know.

    I just wait for the deadline and then keep running to meet it. The only motivation, these days, is the deadline (or deadlines).

    Democracy or shared governance, if it were put in practice, would provide some motivation. Unfortunately, in my experience, most people merely pay lip service to these ideals.

    Safro Kwame

    1. Thanks Dr. Kwame...I am enjoying this adventure. As I was reading your reply, I started to think that maybe the better question is "where do we find the motivation?" because I know it is there.

  2. Bill, I wish I had a good answer to your question. If age really brought wisdom I would be able to give you the perfect response and your teaching career would flow easily onward. But I can't. (And besides, it's much better for you to puzzle things out for yourself. I'm sure that's what you tell your students when they want you to give them the answer...)

    I agree somewhat with Kwame that deadlines produce motivation, but only somewhat. I think that works when one sets one's own deadlines. If all the deadlines are set by others, then instead of motivation they can produce stress, frustration, and burnout.

    I agree as well with Murray. I find that I usually come out of a class with more energy than I entered. That's the true joy of teaching. (And, to think back to my initial blog posting, it's one of the things I worry most about missing in the online teaching environment. Will I get the same energy with the computer as intermediary?)

    One other source of balance and motivation might be the semester system itself--a new beginning every couple months, a slate wiped clean, a new chance to make it right this time, a new chance to try something different, a new chance to learn something new. Almost anything can be put up with for a couple months. And once we do that, we get the chance to pass GO and start all over again, using what we learned in the last go 'round, a career of second chances.

    1. Linda, your last paragraph reminds me of Our Town where a theme is the transience of human life. The play begins with the birth of twins, and it ends in a cemetery. Each act starts in the morning and ends at night. As teachers in higher ed, we are blessed that we can be “reborn” each semester. To quote the Stage Manager in Our Town, “Every time a child is born into the world it’s Nature’s attempt to make a perfect human being.” The play also asks us to cherish those moments within that life cycle and argues that the ordinary is extraordinary. So I can see that the (extra)ordinary moments of our semesters can become the motivation to move through the semester.

    2. When does one just cut back, instead of seek balance and motivation; because one is (or feels) just overloaded or overburdened with work?

      I have a hard time believing that “Every time a child is born into the world it’s Nature’s attempt to make a perfect human being” or that the ordinary is extraordinary. My experience provides very little evidence, if any, to support such claims; including the belief that God never give you more than you can carry.