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Thank You

Dear Dr. McIntosh,

I am writing to say Thank You.

I came home from a conference this week with food poisoning, after getting hives at a conference, and then just when I got out of bed on Wednesday, my husband came down with a horrible case of influenza. I was in crisis because I didn’t have time to get sick. I had planned to use this week, my spring break, as a “catch up.” When I realized that wasn’t going to happen, I had a meltdown, complete with sobbing and crying on the phone to my mother.

I’m in my first university job. My class sizes have doubled from the fall semester to now because someone made a “mistake” in the the budget and the departments were asked to give back part of their budget. Adjuncts were fired and all of their students were moved into other adjuncts’ and visiting professors’ classes two days before school started. It’s been chaos. I have syllabi that are meant for class sizes of 15-20 or less. I tried to scale back assignments the day before classes began, but I did not hack away enough. The semester just got away from me. I was sick at the beginning of the semester with a bad sinus infection, then my husband got the same infection and I got it again. I have had so much grading and I was indeed drowning with a box FULL of writing to grade.

My husband, also a professor, got tenure a few months ago, and so I paid attention when he suggested signing up for your class that he’d heard about on what to do when you are “seriously and scarily behind.”

After literally feeling nauseated and like I couldn’t physically find the strength to sit and listen, I did open the file up yesterday and listened. I feel so much better after listening and I am working my stack on index cards sorted by “most important.” (I also felt vindicated by your story of food poisoning! It is indeed so awful. I was completely in bed for two solid days after getting it.)

I am going to “stop the flow” of incoming writing by changing the syllabus and assignment schedule to include MUCH LESS writing I have to grade. This is a perfect time to do it as this was spring break week. The students won’t mind having less work. Yes, my students are important, but they will survive if I give them credit for doing assignments instead of grading closely every line.

Best of all, I realize that the really important stuff….my research, a book chapter due Feb 1st, my writing/presentation for the conference I just did, my professional stuff, my service to my association, and my projects for another upcoming conference….is all completely in order. I am not late and I never was. I was feeling stressed out by the stuff actually least important in the grand scheme of things as a researcher and professor. The box of papers feels much less like a crisis now and I even made a pot of homemade spaghetti sauce today while I sat and graded. It smells great and will feel so good to eat tonight.

Thank you for what you do. (And see?! I’m feeling so much less stressed that I could take 5 minutes to write a thank you email instead of sobbing hysterically on the phone. My mom, btw, totally understood. She’s a teacher of 7th graders and just broke her wrist. She’s also changing her syllabus this weekend.)

With appreciation,

J, PhD
Assistant Professor of English
Columbus, OH