(Click here for the audio of this post… tried something different!)
It’s December 8th, 2020……… Wow! Where did the year go?
As I sit here in bed (it’s 3:12pm and I intend to stay in my pjs all day) thinking about this past year, it’s so hard to know where to start and what all to include in this long, overdue blog post.
For those of you who don’t know, I recently graduated (see last post) with my PhD in Hispanic linguistics. It was quite the underwhelming experience, probably because I had no real closure from that chapter of my life, but we’ll leave that for another post… or therapy. I took a job in western PA as an assistant professor of Spanish, and as someone who recently left behind a program where I had little say in how/what I taught, my new work environment has truly given me the opportunity to develop as an educator.
I really loved the classes I taught (except one, but you can’t have it all), and for the most part, lol, I really loved my students! The good bulk of them were hard working and showed a general interest in the material.
Aside from teaching, I’m fortunate enough to be a part of a great department. My primary colleague is pretty kick-ass and was the main reason I decided to accept the current position I’m in. After many discussions (more like rants) with friends, I’ve found that this is not necessarily the norm in academia LOL. So, I am truly grateful for the faculty I work with. I was a little nervous being a young rookie, fresh out of graduate school, but they treated me with respect and as an adult from the jump…. which is good, because I defffff felt like a child who needed her mom every once in a while!
This pandemic. Man oh mannnnnnn did ‘Rona bring out some ugly moments and experiences!
I remember having a conversation with a friend who’d just gotten her first academic job last year, and I remember her mentioning that it felt so lonely! And for some reason, I kind of glossed over that comment at the time. “I make friends easily, I’ll be fine!”, I thought. But something to consider is that when you’ve been a student for like… 24 years, you get used to making friends in an environment that’s freaking conducive to making friends! You’re put in a cohort with people from a similar age group, who study the same thing, and therefore have similar-ish interests. In the real world (not the fairy tale-school fiction version of life), that is not the case!
So, I really struggled to connect with others and find a new tribe (aka humans that I connect deeply with, can rant with, be me with, and simply hang with), and if you know me, you KNOW I need a tribe! I am notttt one of those people who believes their partner should be their everything. Gag. bye. So I need other humans that I can connect with, so that I’m not turning to one human to be my lover, my best friend, by brother, my mechanic, my cook, etc. etc.! This was something that really, really impacted me at the beginning of the semester, leading to a lot of depression and anxiety. Thank the universe for therapy thooo! Little by little, I was able to incorporate different things into my life that helped ease that sense of loneliness. I also got so busy that I didn’t have time to feel lonely lol #glasshalffull
My age also was/is not super helpful. Being 29 and looking 20 was also sometimes challenging. Of course, good ole imposter syndrome would creep up when I was stopped by other faculty and asked “what classes are you taking this semester young lady?”, or the looks I’d get as the next faculty member entered the room and saw me cleaning the podium where I’d just taught (“She’s the professor? No way!”). What can ya do though?
I think.. actually I know my students were all shook the first day they saw me, but I’m used to that since there are virtually no Black Spanish teachers. We’re practically unicorns! But all in all, it’s challenging to be closer in age to those you teach than to those you work with, but it’s something I’m slowly adjusting to.
Another challenge the pandemic has brought to light is the challenge of simply being an educator. I think 2020 has been the hardest year for educators since freaking Plato and Socrates and all those dudes. For me personally, this pandemic helped me to see how very little educators are valued, and I often felt like an easily replaceable body that served to keep students happy. Which is not what I sacrificed my 20’s in graduate school for. Time after time, university after university, article after article, all I’d hear about was how hard of a time students were having, and how flexible faculty need to be. But no one cares about how that flexibility affects the faculty member, or how much additional preparation goes in to teaching classes offered through multiple modalities. I personally had to teach some classes face to face and on Zoom simultaneously and often times, I felt like a circus clown trying to appease different audiences.
I also got to the point where the word “flexibility” became a trigger word lol. But I won’t go there right now! With the new way of teaching, I had to answer more emails, hold more office hours, and just overall be more available for and flexible with students than I was comfortable with. I always go back to the notion that, the pandemic is not forever, and as tough as it sounds, students aren’t the only ones going through it. So I think that some flexibility is needed, but I fear the implications of being over-flexible. I don’t want a translator 2 years from now who passed Spanish class but cheated on every single online written exam #yikes.
Like I said before, we are ALL going through a pandemic (teachers and students a like) so why is it that when students felt overwhelmed, many times they could just stop; stop coming to class, stop doing the homework, stop studying. But, when educators feel overwhelmed, we can’t just stop. A friend of mine who is also at a new job posted something that really resonated with me “I’ve been stressed from remote-teaching so many students who (understandably) feel unmotivated and disengaged, stressed from trying to be as accommodating and accessible as possible towards them and meeting their mental/emotional needs in ways which I was never trained for, stressed from adjusting to a new work “environment” where the colleagues with whom I occasionally interact are all strangers to me, which makes me feel very alone, since they are the only people I actually know here.” I relate so damn hard, and I think she sums up beautifully the toll of being “flexible” and how difficult this semester’s been for faculty, but again, who cares about faculty/educators?
In addition to all this craziness (aka weird ass way of teaching), you come to realize that many times it’s not even about the best interest of the student or the faculty member, but rather, it comes down to the funds. And that is something that I’m not sure if I’ll ever be ok with, because I take what I do very seriously. If I can’t give my students the best instruction possible, it often leads me to ask myself, “what’s the point?”… and that’s something that’s been feeling very hard lately and makes me question whether or not I made the correct career choice. (Six years down the drain orrr…..?)
Outside of academia and making friends, west PA is ….interesting. All of my Black friends had the same response when I told them I was moving here, which was “HAHAHAHA, nahhhh, they’re crazy over there.” LOL
In my mind, whenever I think of PA, I think of Philly, but let me tell you, we ain’t in Philly no more! It’s been challenging at times with the lack of diversity and all. But I guess the one good thing about ‘Rona is that I basically go to to work then go home. There are some hidden, very spread out gems here that colleagues have put me on to, though! Coffee shops is unfortunately not one of those things (and y’all know coffee shops hold the key to my wannabe hipster heart). But, this part of PA has a lot of potential. I’m just waiting for the billionaires to come over here and fix it so that I can have one damn decent latte! Please lord, I need my bougie lattes.
On the plus side, being back north now let’s me do fun fall things like pick apples and grapes, eat all the apple cider donuts, see the leaves change colors, and eat all the apple cider donuts lol!
To conclude (on a funny note always), I’ve been trying to think of a few key words I’d use to sum up my first big girl semester and so far I’ve come up with:
LOL It’s been one exhausting semester and I’m sure the spring is only going to feel more exhausting, but I survived and will keep pushing forward.
I could go on and on because this semester has be nuts, but I’ll spare you all!
So, until next time …probably like 2021 if some crazy shit hasn’t happened by then,…. pero like, wegonesee!
Please feel free to like and share! ❤ Also, any feedback is greatly appreciated!
P.S. Here are some recent articles (FINALLY) looking into faculty stress, anxiety, and exploitation.. pa que sepan that I’m not making this up! lol Despite common belief, we work our asses off and put in way more hours than we actually get paid for. Don’t @ me. I said what I said.