rocket-launch-oI have two jobs at my institution: I am a language center director and I am language teacher.  Both roles, in fact, involve a certain amount of teaching.  The type of teaching I do in the classroom mirrors  the way I work with my staff:  They come to this class or this job with a series of skills that make them eminently capable to do the work.  My job as a  teacher and a co-worker, I believe, is to push  and prod and ask hard questions and help identify the “somethings” that would allow this person to grow.  To identify the areas they  would like to take on, explore, create, break (and then fix, please).  But the bottom line in both the office as well as the classroom is this: what does this class or this job need to provide you so you can grow and flourish and move on?  If you can tell me that, then I am here to help you launch.

For the past fifteen years, in the classroom and in the workplace,  this practice seems  to have worked.

In the classroom, through  a combination of  their own gumption as well as the freedom this pedagogy provides,  magical things have happened. Some of the students I have had the honor to teach have used their projects to create the underpinnings for an eventual fellowship application  to  the  Fulbrights or  the Comptons or the Watsons of the world.    Others have gone on to further schooling, taking their project ideas with them and weaving them into their graduate school applications and even their career paths.  Like I said: magical.

In the workplace, I have worked alongside  some amazing young people, each of them gifted in different ways, each of them using our shop to hone their talents not only the benefit of the people we support, but also for their own personal growth. They, like the students, eventually acquire the skills and the experience  needed to get from here to bigger, better environments.

The college classroom and the entry level tech job are similar in that they both are about developing the necessary skills to move up and on and out of that space… to infinity and oh-so-beyond.


I am proud of the work I get to do in both parts of my job.  The results, both in terms of my students learning outcomes as well as my former colleagues’ professional accomplishments, have been remarkable.

But after 15 years of mentoring others in the classroom and in the workplace I have to admit: I am drained.  It’s hard, damn hard, to teach and to mentor over and over again.  It would be soooooo much easier to dictate, demand, and insist as a boss;  to teach from the textbook and to fill in the blanks as a teacher.  As enticing as that might sound, I know that the learning in both places would suffer if I took the easy route.

It is also hard and exquisitely exhausting  to feel as if you are constantly standing still while everyone with whom you have worked is moving on.  They go away and do great things. I’m still here, standing at the launchpad, over and over again.

This is where you, the readership of LLU,  come in: We created this blog many moons ago as a place where  people who have one foot in (language) teaching and another in technology could share and support one another.   Your comments have helped me shape what I do in my daily practice before, so now I am going to ask  for your ideas once again.

As I watched  this conversation unfold  (with a certain amount of envy I do admit because yes a former co worker  just launched and will soon land at this remarkable workplace), I began to think, if there were a paid leave option offered  that would  allow one to re-energize as a teacher, technologist  and  a mentor:  Where would you go? What would you do?

Caveat: I personally believe community is hugely important, and I for one need people to do for me as I do for my students (read: poke, prod, question, etc) Aside from conferences (which as was said here before, can be done better), where does one go????

Or to put it in the language of animated gifs:

How does one move from this:


To this:


Without ending up like this?



I welcome your comments.

Barbara is a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at a small liberal arts college in Maine. Rumor has it this was also her alma mater. She used to work for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for almost 20 years as a teacher and language center director. Prior to these adventures in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and making stuff out of clay. To see her online portfolio please click here!


  1. Jim Groom · March 21, 2013 Reply

    Have I told you I love what you are doing with GIFs in this post yet? If not, I do. Brilliant!

    • Jim Groom · March 21, 2013 Reply

      As to your question, we have been batting around the idea of an incubator for ideas time in which each of us gets three weeks away from the office and free of all responsibility to work through an idea. I would probably do this somewhere outside my regular schedule and routine, I find to get energized I need time locked into beating around an idea and building it out so that I feel comfortable with it, it can happen anywhere, but the real important part for me is to be free of interruptions and everyday concerns that seem to bog me down more and more these days.

      Tim Owens really developed out the idea here:

      • Barbara · March 21, 2013 Reply

        Indeed it was Tim’s post that got me thinking.

        What I want is not only a place that is free of the workaday adminsitratrivia but is also filled with creative, fun, troublemakers… a place that I could go TO to percolate ideas, with people who would poke, prod, and help me make stuff happen.

        Has DTLT ever thought about hosting an incubator project aka hippie commune aka retreat for people who have good ideas but don’t have the on campus support to make them happen? People who could benefit from being around some of your collective amazing brain power for a few days to get ideas started and launched?

        Seriously, it is a scary thought, but if you build it I think they will come.

  2. Tim Owens · March 24, 2013 Reply

    I totally agree about the need for interaction. My thinking is that the incubator time wouldn’t be spent in isolation (at least not me personally although maybe others do better that way) but rather an opportunity to collaborate with others outside the office. We had Alan spend some time at UBC to learn how they manage their wiki projects so well. I could imagine someone wanting to spend some time at CHNM or even spending a week with Grant Potter bouncing ideas off him and getting a fresh set of eyes and ideas on a pet project. And yes, as you rightly infer, it goes both ways and I’d love to see folks take up a seat at DTLT for a period of time as well.

    • Barbara · March 27, 2013 Reply

      Wouldn’t it be cool if Faculty Academy became an incubator for a small group of intrepid souls who have a project and an idea but need the creative genius (or lunacy) of DTLT to make it happen?

      Think of it: rather than a conference (that costs UMW a lot to put on) , you have people apply and pay their own way to come to UMW to work with your bullpen and hatch their ideas during a specific period of time and with a specific set of outcomes. Caveat: you have to share what you make with others and it has to be open and available to the world. A hack-a-thon of sorts.

      Now granted, this doesn’t give the DTLT folks the rest they need and deserve, but maybe (just maybe) there could be something energizing in this for you folks too.

      Free beer? Would that work?

      Just a thought.

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