Wednesday, September 13, 2023

S Words


Since this is my second time through the alphabet with my alphabet posts, I thought I would scroll back and see what my “S word” was the first time. I located it toward the end of another “S word” (September), posted around this time last year.

The“S word”? Semester.

Once again, the more things change, the more they stay the same. (New semester, same dilemmas). I’m not sure what that says about me but, right now, I’m too tired to think about it.

S is for semester and this one is kicking my butt. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize why. I’m back to full-time – or what counts as full-time for an adjunct. Although I’ve taught all these classes before, I’m never happy unless I tweak them. 

This isn’t too bad when it comes to the development classes that I teach every semester, because the tweaks are minor and, when the technology cooperates, not too overwhelming. But my first year seminar, which I have taught numerous times before, comes with built-in changes every time it rolls around – changes I didn’t put into place. They aren’t bad; in fact, some are quite good. But, add them to the tweaks that I would normally do and the lists start to grow. And, of course this time around, I agreed to add in some content related to a new objective, as well as once again rethinking the major assignment that comes at the end of the semester, along with the instruction that leads up to it.

You can see how quickly I can get in over my head. Or, more accurately, in my own way.

And therein lies the problem. I teach my students about perfectionism and yet I struggle with my own, never satisfied leaving well enough alone. 

Ironically, the harder I try to make things perfect, the more the little details trip me up. This is not surprising. I’m a global person. I love big ideas, sweeping plans, and dreaming of new ways to do things. But then it comes down to the details and, as we all know, that’s where the devil lies, especially for a global thinker.

And I very quickly found myself drowning in the details. So much so that, despite my best efforts to achieve balance, that plan was flooded out just as quickly.

It’s early in the semester, though, so I still harbor a bit of optimism, along with the out-of-the-box thinking that also goes so well with a global personality. Yesterday, I decided that I was renaming my days. Well, not exactly renaming them. Frustrated by a schedule where I’m losing a whole weekend day getting ready for the week ahead, I decided to give myself comp time, recouping some of those hours on a weekday, thus making Monday (or whenever I take my comp time) Sunday (or whatever weekend day I gave up).  

It remains to be seen whether my latest big idea makes things better or worse, but I’ve already learned that pairing that comp time with other chores, like things that need to be done around the house, is probably not the best use of it.

This week, I'm challenging my freshmen to think about their chronotypes (lark, night owl, third bird). From there, I want them to consider these presets, as it were, using them as a tool for developing time management skills befitting a schedule more wide open than any they had in their previous thirteen years of education. 

Once the structures that have been our touchstone have been largely ripped away, it can be a struggle to decide what goes where. Not surprisingly, it can take longer than we expect to rebuild a routine that functions for the long haul. And, in a world where the schedule can change with every semester, it can be difficult to establish a routine that can function as a life raft, no matter how imperfect, in time to rescue ourselves from drowning in a sea of details.

Some days, we can follow the schedule we've devised, ticking all the boxes and congratulating ourselves on our insight. Other days, all we can do is enjoy the ride.

And coming to terms with that is perhaps the greatest time management trick of them all.

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