Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Quarter That Tried to Eat Me

When I was younger, my dad used to tell me bedtime stories every night.  I didn’t get traditional bedtime stories about Goldilocks or Snow White, though.  No, I got bedtime stories with titles like, “The Banana That Ate San Francisco,” or “The Orange That Ate Chicago.”  I bring this up because the reason I’ve been absent from this blog for four freakin’ months is that this past quarter was The Quarter That Tried to Eat Rachel.

Why was this The Quarter That Tried to Eat Me?  Well, for one thing, I was taking three seminars, rather than the more typical workload of two.  To be fair, I was auditing one of them, but all that really meant practically was that I didn’t write a paper for that course, even though I still did all the reading.  Another way in which this quarter tried to eat me was via my really bright idea to take Old French.  Now, as you can probably tell from the title of my blog and my little bio on the side, I’m a medievalist.  That is, I study medieval English literature.  I can read Middle English (that’s the variety of English that Chaucer wrote in, for example) with only a glossary needed.  I took Old English – which is an entirely different language from Modern English – last year, and had a relatively easy time with it.  Old French, for fluent speakers of Modern French, is not as hard as Old English, but harder than Middle English is for fluent speakers of Modern English.  Which sounded great, until I realized that two quarters of learning how to read Modern French, while a good enough background to make the class possible, was little enough to make it the hardest I’ve had to work in a long while.  I don’t think I’ve felt the kind of relief I felt when I walked out of that final in one piece since I learned that I got into grad school.  The third factor contributing to my near demise at the teeth of this quarter was the fact that it was the first quarter that I was working as a TA, or a teaching assistant.

Now, to clarify: yes, being a TA is a lot of time and work.  There’s keeping up with your students’ reading, lesson planning, and grading, not to mention time spent holding office hours and responding to student e-mails.  That being said, being a TA is my favorite.thing.ever.  I love explaining something a student didn’t understand before, and seeing the moment when it “clicks.”  I love being in front of a classroom and getting the students to engage.  I love listening to some of the ideas the students bring up in discussion or in their papers.  All quarter long, I found that I could be having a really crappy day, but after two hours of leading discussion section, my mood would be drastically improved.  I maintain that this is actually why the quarter, despite its many valiant and toothy attempts, was ultimately unsuccessful at devouring me.

The next two quarters are looming somewhat ominously, if slightly less busy schedule-wise than last quarter, but it’s good to know now that I can survive the process.  My first qualifying exams are in June, and I have somewhere in the vicinity of 40,000-50,000 pages to read for those.  I’ll try to break up the hours upon hours of reading, reading, taking notes, and then reading some more with some short-ish blog posts.  I hope you’re all enjoying the holiday season!

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