Mid-Terms: A Time of Trudgery

October 29, 2009

It’s mid-term time, a time I sometimes found to be very difficult, not necessarily because of the tests and other assignments that were due, although I didn’t always enjoy those things. No. The difficulty was more general. I was halfway through the quarter, too late to walk away without losing my hard-earned tuition dollars, and wondering why I was paying to put myself through the agony of tests and studying. It was too early for me to feel really successful in my classes and I was still wondering if I “got” it—if I had mastered the kinds of studying I needed for a particular course and if I understood course content well enough to demonstrate it to an instructor’s satisfaction. No matter how confident I felt personally, until that confidence was tested—often quite literally—I couldn’t be sure.

Some quarters were easier than others; everything flowed smoothly, but others were difficult. There were several times when I was tempted to just walk away, but I never did. Here’s one of the things that kept me going besides friends and family who were cheering me on: a quarter or semester is finite. Time passes quickly, and the term will soon be over. No matter how difficult a course is, no matter how much work you have to do, if you keep working at it, you will get done. Mid-term may be a little too early to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s there and it will appear.

During my doctoral program I often felt overwhelmed, so much so sometimes that I included the word “trudgery” among the terms and concepts I provided clarifying definitions for in my dissertation (pp. 68-69, Learning • Teaching • Leading: A Patchwork of Stories from a Non-Traditional Life):

Here’s what I wrote in my dissertation:

Trudgery: A blended word that combines drudgery and trudging along. I coined it in a journal and continue to use it when working with other students to explain how we often just put one foot in front of the other and keep on going—one step at a time, one assignment at a time—even when the work to be done seems overwhelming in the light of other life responsibilities. As I wrote in my journal on November 17, 1994, while I was teaching high school fulltime and taking master’s degree courses at night:

Trudgery. Drudgery. Too much to do. Trudging along. There are times when I leap and dance and spin in the air, when the learning excites me so much that I can stay up all night and never feel it, not even when I must come in and face rooms full of teenagers. But there are other times when the different drum doesn’t beat. No music plays.

Discouraged, disheartened, I nonetheless move forward, one foot in front of the other because this is what I do. I hope. And in the hoping, I keep on moving even though now seems bleak. I cannot live in it. I trudge. One step. Another. Another. Into joy’s light again. Faith•full. I wish that school could be less trudgery and more delight, and I don’t understand why it isn’t. And yet I don’t even seem to be able to always make it so myself.

You can see from this journal entry that my own experiences as a student and as a teacher, especially when I was both at the same time, influenced my interests as an educator. The things I write about here come from my life and I hope they’ll encourage you to save pieces of your life to help you understand yourself and achieve your goals. Meanwhile, it’s mid-term week and I recommend you reward yourself when you finish it successfully. When I can manage it, I like to take a day off from work and studying, but since that’s not always possible, dark chocolate works too.

What treat can you realistically give yourself when you finish mid-terms? Even though you don’t need it, you have my permission to give yourself a reward.

The most essential factor is persistence—the determination never to allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragement that must inevitably come.
• James Whitcomb Riley


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