My colleague is still on jury duty and will be for another week or so, but things have settled down in the department. Her courses are being covered by a lovely part-time person we hired for this year (2 classes), I'm doing one, and the fourth is being split by two administrators. We're even getting some dosh out of this; I'll get $250, and the part-time person will get $500, which I think is not bad at all for teaching one or two courses for 2 1/2 weeks with no grading. The part-time person is teaching The Great Gatsby, which she's taught before and can do without much prep, and I feel good about her getting some extra money. Plus, I'm writing her a letter of rec for her job search, and it's great to have this to point to as yet more evidence of her totally stepping up to the plate when needed and being a full participant in the department and the school community.
I, on the other hand, am teaching Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon to seniors. And have I read this novel before? Um, that would be a "no." I've read and taught other Morrison novels, and I've owned a copy of Song of Solomon for years with every intention of reading it at some time, but that time has just never come along. So I'm reading it now, along with the students.
And you know what? This is totally good for me! I've spent so much energy this year on being department head that my teaching has been same-old-same-old. I mean, the "same" is pretty good, if I do say so myself, and I don't think my students have been suffering in any way, but I have definitely noticed myself just pulling out old lesson plans and going with those rather than the usual tweaking or reinventing that I normally do. And, no doubt as a result, I'm enjoying my classes a little less this year. Indeed, it's been a rather ho-hum year (when not a really stressful year) all the way around.
But now there's a fire lit under me! Now I'm facing a room full of seniors (over half of whom I've taught before, which helps), working our way through a difficult novel that's new to all of us. And these are the non-AP students, so there are a few real duds in the bunch, as well as other students who totally could be in AP but aren't for some reason or other. And we're having such a good time! Or at least I'm having such a good time, and some of them clearly are, and the others who are clearly checking out for the year already are being polite about it. I'm stressed out and keyed up before each class, but I'm having fun during the class itself and feeling great afterward.
It's also the first time I've taught seniors, so all of this is making me feel very good about the new course I'll be teaching next year: an AP Lit senior course on the theme "Crime and Punishment." Lots of new works for me, new challenges -- no phoning it in for me next year!
And thank goodness, I say. I do worry about getting boring and getting bored, but whenever I start fretting about that, some new challenge will come along, and this January panic over my absent colleague has been just the spark I needed to feel better about both this year and next year.
All of this has also helped me to reframe a bit one of the things that I really don't like about being department chair, which is that no matter how organized and on top of things I am, there are still crises that I have to deal with. People get put on juries, colleagues get sick, last-minute stuff arises. Shit happens. And that has been stressing me out a lot; I spent a lot of the fall in hyper-vigilant mode, always looking around for the next attack, metaphorically speaking.
But maybe it's been good for me to have to turn on a dime sometimes. And really, it hasn't been all that often; it's just that it happened often enough that I was always on the alert for it. But maybe I can start accepting the lesson that I should have learned a hundred times over by now, which is that flexibility is an even greater trait than organization, and that my goal shouldn't necessarily to be to plan things even more than I do, but rather to be able to handle the ups and downs of life without freaking out about the latter so much.
We shall see how far I get with that goal by June. In the meantime, Song of Solomon is challenging me in a very good way.