First Day of School

Even in college

Even in college, we have a first day of school, although I admit it looks a bit different than K-12. The students are older, and they have their share of adult problems. Some with children struggle to make time for homework; others have to work full-time; still others are fighting health conditions or watching family members die of cancer. Gone are the days when all our students were 18-24, could afford their college, and had parents who footed the bill. My students are at times tired, stressed, and worried. They’re not sure of the reward for going to college, except that it’s necessary to go to college to get a job. Necessary, but not automatically sufficient.

Being the teacher

Photo by Christina Morillo on

Being the teacher to these students means something different than it did when I was a student. I have to be clearer with instructions because they don’t have the leeway to get things wrong. I have to keep them awake in class. I need to listen with empathy, because sometimes they need someone to talk to. I can’t be infallible like professors of old; I have to work harder, stay humble, be on their level (except when it comes to course content and grading).

What this means to me

This means that showing up to class and teaching is not enough. It means that some of my days will be exhausting, and that I will sometimes be frustrated. It means that I will need support on some days. It means I need to get out of this COVID burnout to do my job.

It means that I am doing something worth getting right.

The Beginning of the Semester Looms

Friday is zero hour, the beginning of semester meetings. I’ll sit through a couple days of meetings and then classes start.

This summer emptied out into the flattest vista of grey, and I curled up in it. I know this has been the most restful summer I’ve had, and that if I’m not rested up for the fall, I’ll never be.

This is NOT me.
Photo by Max Fischer on

I still don’t know if I’m ready for the semester to start. I don’t know if I’m ready for the color and the cacophony of all the college students yet, the part of my life where I stand in front of a class and try to make the subject’s information real, the part where I unleash my odd sense of humor to help capture my students. I have forgotten that “professor” is one of my roles.

But this happens at the end of every summer, and the transition is made easier by the rituals of beginning: The all-employee picnic. The all-staff and faculty meetings. The greeting of new students. The cleaning of my office.

I’m ready. As ready as I’ll ever get. Bring on the cacophony.

Am I ready? Am I ever?

 Classes are starting in a couple days, and I hope I’m ready for them. I always feel like I’m not quite ready, but I also feel assured that none of my colleagues at the University feel like they’re ready either. It’s the lament of faculty everywhere, I guess. (Just as I started writing, something broke in one of my online course sites and I had to fix it. So much for being ready.)

It will be another semester of social distancing, because vaccines have not been widely available in the US yet. I will meet with half the class at a time again, giving the same activities to each section. Tuesday and Thursday will be my busy days. Office hours will be Zoom or live. Everything live will be with masks on.

I have gotten used to COVID protocols, strangely enough. I’m accustomed to not going places, wearing masks, Zooming. I miss live teaching, but if distance protocols are how I have to teach, I’ll keep doing so. 

So I’ll be as ready as I can on Thursday when I start teaching. 

Living a double life

 I’m definitely half-asleep. I started thinking about writing in this blog and then closed my eyes and started planning exam questions in Personal Adjustment (my positive psychology course for spring semester). I wish it was chapters of my work in progress; that would have been much more helpful at this moment.

I have a double-life. I teach, and when I’m not teaching, I write. And they’re two different worlds. I teach psychology and human services classes, and I do research occasionally on things like credit card use and euphemisms in advertising. I have about 90 students in a semester, including the internship students.

So in a few days, my days will be more absorbed in teaching and zoom meetings and the like. I will find time to write, and I might even write better because I have breaks from writing. Ironic, maybe, but that’s how it often works for me.

I look forward to retiring, but that won’t be for at least five years given the health insurance situation. Unless a miracle (the Powerball) happens, in which case I will retire early. So odds are (about a million to one) I will have the double life for a while longer. 

The Relief

I finally have a break! I’m tearing up with gratitude.

This has been the most exhausting semester I’ve ever had. Not necessarily the hardest, although teaching both live and on Zoom at the same time was somewhat difficult and gave less than stellar results. But long and exhausting, waiting for students to drop in on Zoom, sitting in a empty office, scuttling from office to restroom with my mask on. 

The sunny days out the window seemed so distant from where I sat, even though I have the best view on campus out my window. Then the leaden skies came, and at least they matched my moods.

There was the constant threat of COVID. There was a point where 9 out of 60 students were out over either isolation (COVID positive) or quarantine (contact with a COVID positive). The virus swept through peer groups and Greek life, and although I taught social distanced and masked, the random trips through hallways and in bathrooms worried me.

I focused on the task, knowing that thinking about any of this, much less all of this, would break me. And so I became an automaton, checking off each finished class session, each office hour. Not waiting for break, because that seemed too distant. 

Now I’m here, at break, and I want to cry. After this week, I have a week of waiting for students to ask questions over Zoom (and they never do too much of this) and finals week, where their exams are essay and take home. I will be at home, comfortable, during all of this. So, in effect, I have survived the semester.

And I feel like crying. 

Need to get back into writing



 I need to get back into writing, back into feeling like I’m a writer.

It’s this semester, I know it. It’s been nonstop work and seat of the pants improvisation. It’s been scrambling for a foothold. 

It’s been two days, for God’s sake.

If there’s anyone else having trouble writing, I feel for you. I feel for me. This has been an insane year.

Does anyone have any ideas for short stories? I feel like if I could get a short story written this weekend, I might feel better about the writing thing. Fantasy, light or dark, would work for me. I suppose I could write something on a plain insightful fiction riff, but can’t come up with those myself. 

So, send those prompts in, and hopefully I will be inspired.

Wish me luck (on the verge of a COVID semester)



 I took a break from this journal yesterday because the beginning of the semester is fast approaching. I got up early this morning fretting about some bit of paperwork I needed to get in before 10 today, and I will spend the morning doing some last minute magic to my course sites. We will be meeting in a blended format, so I will have classes each class day that will keep me in contact with students.

I’m ready. I’m not ready. I’m as ready as I’m going to be. I never feel ready; I just have to plunge in and deal with putting out fires as I go. Like my usual semesters, except with masks, hand sanitizer, appointment-only office hours, surface disinfectant, and the possibility of students bouncing in and out of class as they get sick. No worries.

 This is going to be a hard semester. This will not be business as usual, and I’ve been so stressed for so long already it feels normal. I don’t know what this semester will bring. 

 Wish me luck.


The COVID teaching year


And now it begins … fall semester under COVID.

I have two meetings today, one over ZOOM and the other socially distanced.  I’ll have one more socially distanced meeting on Monday, and then classes (my new hybrid method) will start next Wednesday.

 I don’t know if I’m ready for this. I will make sure I mask well and use my ethyl alcohol spray and wipe down the tables and meet students over ZOOM unless and until my students all get sick.

I’m usually excited about the beginning of the school year, but there doesn’t seem like there’s much to get excited about. Apprehensive is the better adjective. 

I need to make new rituals to replace the anchoring of the new school year. I didn’t know how much I needed them until they were gone. The beginning of the year picnic, gathering for refreshments before the big meeting, Convocation. The new wardrobe. 

What shall I do? Break in the video camera and microphone? Bring in a stuffed toy? (No, my colleagues won’t take that well) Wear my Bub mask? YES! 

 If I can keep my sense of humor, I think I’ll get through this.

Both sides of the educational equation

I think college professors should take college classes every now and then. It gives us an insight as to what we’re doing to our students.

I’m taking an online course on Serving the Diverse Community During Disaster. It’s a great class, as all my classes in disaster mental health have been. However, these are the thoughts that keep going through my mind: 

  • This class is only five weeks long! How am I going to get all this done in such a short time?
  • I hate group projects.
  • I have 150 pages to read each week! 
This is what I put my students through (except they probably only read half as much in a week). These things are necessary for learning, and the pace is necessary for a summer class. So when I’m teaching, I have to incorporate lots of reading, group projects, and all those assignments. 

But when I’m a student, I see it from the students’ point of view, and I have to remind myself all is wise and necessary.