Despite having my head drilled into a couple of times, and my neck muscles pulled apart like the living room drapes, I’ve been very lucky, as far as Chiari goes. I don’t have a syrinx, which hasn’t limited my mobility. My spinal damage is limited to what amounts to pretty significant arthritis, which will certainly get worse as I get older; but, I’m not going to count those horrifying mutant chickens before they are hatched. Overall, it could be much worse, and I’m grateful that it isn’t. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t had to make some serious life-changes to accommodate where Chiari fits; and that I continue to have to do so.
When we moved back to Virginia, Bryon, with his pesky belief in me, was excited because he was convinced that I would be strong enough to get back in the classroom to teach, instead of just working online. So, I agreed to take on two in-person classes, one of which was a class that met only on Saturdays. It was a hybrid class, in which the bulk of the work was delivered online, but we met for almost three hours, once a week to deliver in-person instruction. Oy, that’s a long class to be “on” for. Oh, and instead of it being a standard fourteen-week class, it’s compressed into eight weeks. (My other class is a standard semester, twice-a-week class).
I’m not sure what I was thinking in agreeing to this one, except that it’s good money, and it got me in the classroom to get me my sea legs back. I was so nervous the first day, that I made Bryon drive me. Because it’s nearly an hour from the house, he and Collin had iHop while I taught, and then they went exploring at a local park. This became their Saturday morning ritual. They became buddies with a waitress who never ceased to be amazed that my small child could eat a breakfast burger, a full order of mozzarella sticks, a short stack of pancakes and drink a milk shake. Perhaps he could pack all of this away because his mother wasn’t there to stop this glutinous atrocity, because she was too busy trying to convince a room full of freshmen the difference between too and to.
Still, this meant that I was teaching three days a week. It’s funny how three days a week now sounds like a lot, when two years ago, it would be nothing. It didn’t take long for my semi-broken body to voice concerns. Within the first month, I had a headache that lasted over a week and had to cancel several classes. I’m not sure the students minded, but I did. I felt irresponsible and guilty. I’m not a class-canceller. Trust me, cancelling class is a disaster for students who can barely follow the syllabus as it is. When you change a due date, you might as well ask them to find Narnia. Before my surgeries, I never cancelled. I used to come to class, practically straight from the ER. I’d be black-and-blue from IV’s, and I’d still show up, looking like a junkie.
Then..the mistakes. I ordered the wrong textbook for my entire set of classes, as an oversight. And, then for the admin side of my class, I wasn’t making mistakes, but I was almost making them, which for a perfectionist teacher like me, was enough to bring me to tears of shame. I had to have Bryon start double-checking everything I put on Blackboard, the online administrative side of classes. I used to be able to whip up a class, the syllabus, the assignments, and do the grading without even thinking. I could do that with one hand, and cook dinner with the other. Now, even with full concentration, I was having trouble keeping straight what year it was, what month assignments went into, and what week I should make a due date. I was incapable of managing. Blackboard is not designed for user error. One mistake and you have assignments due in July of 1967. I couldn’t cope anymore. My short-term memory, and my detailed memory were simply not working.
Finally, lecturing was an issue too. When I first started getting sick, one of the things that pushed me to really push to my doctor, was that I wasn’t functioning correctly neurologically. I was having trouble spelling, where I’d not had trouble before. Suddenly, I was spelling everything phonetically. Or, I’d be writing on the board, and forget what I was writing, mid-word. Sure, that happens to everyone occasionally; but, it happens to me, constantly. This issue only got worse, after surgeries. It doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in your professor when she is standing at the board misspelling, or literally forgetting she’s talking about. Also, it’s humiliating. Nothing says, “your professor is an idiot,” like stumbling over basic words.
I love my job. I love teaching. I love my students. I truly and deeply value their success. This meant that it was time to give up teaching, at least in person. I had to, not because I didn’t want to do it anymore, but because it wasn’t right for me to continue to do it if I couldn’t do it to the best of my ability. I was certainly doing an “adequate” job. I was making it to work, and I was getting their assignments graded in a timely manner. I was loading quality, engaging assignments to Blackboard, and I was lecturing pretty well. My students are used to my quirks of spelling, I suppose! In fact, I get all good reviews, and most of them want to take me for the next course.
But, I wasn’t doing the kind of work that I felt was acceptable to my standards. I feel more comfortable online when I can spell-check. I feel more comfortable when I can have much more time to double, triple, and quadruple-check my assignments before I post them. I just can’t put myself in a position where I’m in the classroom anymore. It’s too overwhelming to my brain. Every day, several students come up to me, before or after class, and they all want to change something, add something, or modify something, and I can’t remember everything they say. It’s not fair to them. They aren’t getting what they deserve from an instructor.
So, this will be my last semester in the classroom. I know it’s the right decision because as the weeks tick down toward the last week, I get lighter and lighter, and I feel less and less burdened, despite knowing I still have new classes starting in the Spring. Those classes are online. It’s a relief knowing I can handle those so much more easily. My wheelhouse has changed, which is a bit sad, but also a relief, to know where I fit. I will miss student interaction, but I also love being home. I’ve noticed that as Collin gets older, he seems to need me more, not less. I think I’m right where I belong.
I have to accept that Chiari has taken away something that I love. It’s taken my career. Except, that it’s not taken it fully away. It has modified it. I still get to teach at home. I have learned to accept a lot of changes with my new life, and this one is easy to accept because it means I still get to do what I love, I just get to do it spending more time with my family. And, I get to keep doing it, no matter where we live. I’m okay with all of that. I can mourn the loss, but I can also look at the brightness of the future. It’s like all things Chiari: you have to choose to see the bright side, or you get stuck in the swamp of sadness.