Surviving Fall Semester 2021

As of a few hours ago, I’ve finished grading all of the final portfolios that were submitted across my four classes this semester. I’m still not *actually* done – several students needed to take incompletes, so I need to finalize those and make sure they’re set up for success. It makes complete sense that more students than usual would need incompletes this semester; it was an incredibly difficult semester all around. But it definitely puts a damper on my ability to mentally “clock out” of my classes, so I’m in this weird limbo where I’m feeling like I should be celebrating having survived Fall 2021, but both not knowing what would even feel celebratory AND feeling like I’m not actually done enough to celebrate. And just, you know, feeling completely and utterly burnt out.

In the last few weeks of the semester, I got my booster and my kid got her vaccine shots – she’ll be fully vaccinated just after Solstice. I am so grateful! And my daughter also celebrated her 10th birthday on Thanksgiving Day – I’ve been a parent for an entire decade now! But over the Thanksgiving break, I also got sick (not with COVID, but adding the extra stresses around testing to the existing difficulty of being sick near the end of the semester was Not Great) and lost my voice, and then in between her two vaccine shots, my kid got exposed to COVID at school during lunch and had to go through a 10-day quarantine. She was the first kid in her district to do the new Test to Stay program, and she tested negative every day, thank goodness, but the testing only allowed her to stay at school – she still couldn’t participate in extracurriculars, which meant missing her very first orchestra concert that she had worked SO hard for. We watched the livestream of it together, but gosh, that was just heartbreaking. It also meant that during the last week and half of class, I didn’t know until after 9:30am each morning whether or not I’d be able to come into class to teach in person or have to pick up my kid, which was an adventure. Thankfully we all made it through in one piece, but this past month has just been A LOT.

The not-yet-finished hat at the top of this post is Elska, which I cast on for a few weeks ago, back when Ysolda launched the Knitworthy group on her Knitwork platform. I’ve had a kit for Elska for…um, a very long time, because I just fell madly in love with that dash of bright blue against the neutral browns, and I thought it would be really neat to try the recommended yarns for the design. The Knitworthy group was just what I needed to spur me on to actually USE this kit. It has been a really nice way to unwind in the evenings after giving paper feedback, and then grading portfolios, all day, every day for the last month or so. And now I’m almost to the decreases!

Almost finished with my Elska hat!

I never did document the finished Colorwheel Musselburgh hat, did I? Well, I finished it.

Stripey hats.

It’s very bright. I don’t love that the yellows and oranges are what ended up in the brim no matter which way I wear it, but I do love how bright it is. And now my kid and I both have Gauge Dyeworks Musselburgh hats, and that’s pretty great.

Stripey hats.

So anyway, I survived Fall 2021. I’ve never been more exhausted at the start of a semester than I was this semester, and the sad thing is that I said the same thing, truthfully, about the 3 semesters that preceded it. This was my 4th “hardest semester ever” in a row. It broke me. Not completely – as soul-crushing as it was to grade 40+ Final Portfolios this week, I still involuntarily break into a grin from ear-to-ear (and sometimes even clap!) when I read a portfolio cover letter from a student sharing the insights they’ve gained from their time in my class, or read final drafts that just absolutely shine after the hard work the students put into revision. I still love my students fiercely. But I’ve never felt as grim about the sustainability of my job as I do right now. How many more “hardest semester evers” can I actually manage? (I have absolutely no reason to believe that Spring will be any easier, except that my teaching schedule is slightly less nightmarish and I actually have non-teaching days, so maybe it will?) How do I keep up this work without any prospect of a meaningful break? (There is no such thing as a sabbatical when you are a non-tenure track teaching professor.) How do I keep it up if, as seems likely to me given the way things are going, my country is tumbling towards autocratic minoritarian control by those who align themselves behind Trump? Is this what teaching is going to be now – just crisis after crisis, but being expected to carry on as if everything is normal?

On a less grim note, I realized last week that I made it through an entire semester of teaching on campus every single day, and every single day I was wearing an outfit (including a mask) that I had made myself: my Cleo Skirts, my Demeter Dresses, and various handknit sweaters and cowls and shawls to go with them.

Just a collection of some of my self-made outfits.
(Just a smattering of some of the outfits I wore to teach in!)

This blew me away when I realized it. I remember, as a kid, telling people that one of my aspirations was to make my own clothes. When I was really little, I used to design clothes for my toys using gum wrappers, tissues, and rubber bands. During high school, I’d wake up early in the morning on Saturdays to watch the fashion shows that would play on E!, because I was just so fascinated by the possibilities of garment-making. I’ve been quite capable on the knitwear front for quite a long time, but it really wasn’t until last year that I started to learn how to sew, and that opened up the possibility to make my dream of a handmade wardrobe real. I really am living the life that Child Me dreamed of: teaching, writing, studying language and the mind, making music, and making my own clothes! It was really the pandemic that brought me to this point: realizing that I never wanted to wear hard-waisted pants again, and that my old jeans didn’t quite fit anymore anyway, is the spark that lit the fire under me to learn to sew garments. And while my repertoire is pretty limited right now – so far I’ve made one York Pinafore, 5 Cleo Skirts, and 3 Demeter Dresses, I’m hoping to try sewing some stretchy-waisted pants and some overalls in the nearish future, and if I can manage pants, then I truly will be able to have a wardrobe that’s entirely made-by-me.

In my head, all semester long, I kept telling myself that once the semester was over, I’d do a bunch of that sewing – a couple more dresses, but also my first pair of pants (which I think will be Made By Rae’s Luna pants, because I found her Cleo skirt pattern to be really easy to learn from and I suspect the same will be true of the pants). And, I mean, maybe it’ll happen, but I also told myself I’d deal with a bunch of “adulting” stuff over break, too. And what I’m realizing now that I’m basically done is that 3 weeks is not actually very much time, especially when I need to be prepping my Spring classes (and goodness knows what the situation will be for those, what with Omicron raging through). Maybe Spring semester will be easier on the work-life balance front; one of the main reasons that doing anything other than teaching was hard for me this semester was that I had an extra class compared to last Fall, and the schedule that resulted from that had zero non-teaching days, which meant that I was squeezing prep and paper feedback around my classes every single day, and that’s just…well, it’s basically the worst possible scenario for my brain, which is almost certainly the same sort of neurodivergent/ADHD brain my kid has. It takes me a long time to “reset” after a transition, and I’m realizing that I rely on hyperfocus to get me through big batches of feedback, so a schedule that maximized interruptions and gave me no long blocks of work time was just a nightmare. I hope to never, ever have that particular schedule again.

Well, this post has gotten long enough. We’ll see what I have to share once I’ve had a chance to rest a little. Take care, everyone!

1 thought on “Surviving Fall Semester 2021”

  1. The Great British Sewing Bee is a lovely, Bake Off style, program about sewing. I think there are seven series out currently with another set to begin in April. I recommend it if you can find episodes to watch. The fashion historian they have on occasionally, Amber Butchart, has a show on Nebula or Curiosity Stream or one of those I also recommend if you enjoy sewing. Cheers.

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