Monday, November 19, 2007

Can't seem to put on the brakes...

I have a recurring (bad) dream. It is always set in a parking lot of some kind. I am in a car -- usually my own, but occasionally belonging to someone else, such as my mother or my husband -- and am attempting to stop the car, but no matter how hard I step on the brakes the car simply will not come to a complete stop. I stand on the brakes as hard as I can but the car continues to move in slow motion, and usually crashes into other cars, buildings, or occasionally I wake just before the actual crash occurs. Even though the movement in the dream is very slow (the car just seems to drift of its own accord no matter how much I try to stop it), and no one is ever hurt in the dream, it still has a nightmarish quality to it.

I've been having this dream for at least 20 years, I think. The peculiar thing is that I never thought about it while awake until just recently. My (real) brakes on my car developed a problem, that required very carefully planned braking -- and some worry as to whether or not I'd actually come to a stop. I had this deja vu feeling while engaging in this special braking maneuver and realized that I had dreamed that feeling many, many times. I suddenly recalled several specific dreams from the past twenty years.

Now that I am conscious of the dream, the meaning seems obvious. My life often feels like a slow motion, low speed car wreck. I'm always trying to stop things long enough to catch a breath, but no matter how hard I seem to try, life keeps moving, and I keep running into things.

This year is a good example. This past July I finally achieved the pinnacle of academic life. I'm now not only tenured, but a full professor. It's taken me twenty-five years and three different jobs to get here, but it finally happened. The accompanying raise was significant enough to allow me to stop teaching "overloads" (extra classes above the regular full-time teaching load). I decided it was time to stop running myself ragged with so many committee assignments, institutional and community service activities, take a deep breath and refocus my attention. My teaching and advising had taken something of a back seat to all the other activities (even if in the long run those served the teaching mission of the college). I wanted to put more energy in to my students.

What I really wanted to do with the extra time I would have from dropping down to a normal teaching load, and cutting back on some of the service activities, was write. There are at least three different novels knocking around in my brain, with pages of notes on characters, plot and details for each tucked in journals and notebooks all over my office. My thought was there might also be time for drawing and painting.

But none of that is likely to be. The president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, Michael McCall, wants the colleges to launch this Virtual Learning Initiative (VLI) January 2009. The idea is to take all the courses for certain majors, break them down in to smaller modules, put those modules on-line and make them available on demand 365 days a year. The intended purpose, to serve workers who wish to further their education and employers who don't want those workers taking time off work for education.

I am far from convinced that this is the best use of KCTCS resources, either from a pedagogical or marketing standpoint, but my college president, Bruce Ayers, wants Southeast to participate in this project, and he wants me to work on modularizing Introductory Sociology. I can't say no. I owe Dr. Ayers a lot.

I had been denied tenure at two different institutions when I interviewed at Southeast 11 1/2 years ago. There are many people who would not have wanted to take a chance on me, but Dr. Ayers did. Moreover, he's given me many extraordinary opportunities to do new and exciting things, and put trust in me to represent the college in various ways. He has always made me know how valued I was, and how much he appreciated my contributions to the college. So even though working on yet another new distance learning project is not what I originally had in mind for 2008, it is what I will be doing. While I am excited by the challenge, I also do have this sense of being unable to stop the "car" and catch a breath!

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