Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Main Benefit of a Sabbatical for a Language Professor

Coker College is a teaching college, so our sabbaticals are only for one semester and there is no publish-or-perish mindset here.  While a sabbatical might seem like a vacation from work for those not familiar with their workings; it is not. Sabbaticals are about accomplishing projects and doing things that ordinarily cannot be done during a typical semester.

Having time to accomplish things during a regular semester can be a feat.  When Idelber Avelar told me in grad school that I had more free time then than I ever would as a professor, I thought he was nuts.  No, he was right.  Being a professor means grading, reading, meetings, committees, grading, grading, and a little bit of actual teaching.  All of that disappears on sabbatical.  You now have time to do all those things you told yourself you'd do back in grad school.  Obvious benefits include less stress, time to read, time to work on projects, time to write, time.

While I'm working on an article for a book about Borges and the Bible right now, and I'm working on making my SPA 260 course a hybrid one, the main benefit to me, as a language professor, is that I can speak Spanish every single day with native speakers.  I am immersed, again, in the culture and language that I teach. This has had the effect of improving my Spanish, reminding me of countless little quirks and idioms that I have forgotten teaching the ABCs, shapes, colors, and basic greetings day-in/day-out for 15 years.  The vast majority of my students take my classes because they have to.  I rarely get pupils who want to study more than they are required to do. This leads me to spend the majority of my time in "teacher speak" mode, which I've realized can be detrimental to maintaining the superior level of the skill I possess and teach.  

I am able to live in Costa Rica during my sabbatical, and I daily have deep conversations with people, trying to speak Spanish for at least 3-4 hours per day every day.  My Spanish feels polished and shiny, ready for primetime again.  I'm tan, rested, and ready to get back into the classroom in August.  Sabbaticals are a great thing and I hope that they don't go the way of all the earth.  Sería un error ponerle fin a este galardón.

So, while my facebook feed may seem like I'm on one big tourist jaunt around the country, I am speaking, conversing, learning, remembering, and maximizing my time here so that when I'm back there I'll be better than ever.  ¡Vivan los sabáticos!