By Elizabeth Rodriguez, Director, eLearning Center Laredo College
The days have no beginning and no end. As I wake up every morning “to go to work,” I find myself in my home office/study room for more hours than I care to remember. As I begin my day, the sun shines through the window, and I have slowly seen it turn into the night by the time I finally decide to “leave the office.” The most challenging part of this pandemic experience has been trying to balance my days, attempting to grasp why this is happening and especially if our “new normal” will ever end. So often, I have started my days crying in the shower, thinking to myself, am I strong enough to get through this? Here is my story in just a few short paragraphs.
As the eLearning Center Director for Laredo College and a Doctoral Student at Regent University, I have always been an advocate of distance education. Little did I know how important the work I have been doing and studying for years would become. Even though I know distance education well, I could not help but feel a little panicked when I was told we needed to convert all our face-to-face courses online in a matter of one week. Training faculty who had never taught online, uploading content to our learning management system, and finding ways to support students who had never taken an online class, this was a lot to process. Oh, wait: and do all of this from home! My 40-hour weeks quickly turned into 60, 70, 80-hour weeks. The difficulty of separating myself from work, school, and home life has been the biggest challenge.
Feeling like the future of the College was resting on my Department’s shoulders, I had to keep full attention on my team and the work we were tasked to take on. In my mind, I could no longer tackle both work and school. I was quickly finding myself so mentally exhausted and stressed at the end of my workday that I was struggling to stay seated at my computer to study. Even though I knew my dissertation chair was waiting to receive my work, I simply could not find the energy to keep working. This feeling went on for several weeks. One day, after a long stressful day “at work,” I decided I could no longer continue my dissertation. My focus and my energy needed to be on the immediate task on hand. There were days that, as the eLearning Director, I felt I had failed the College because so many of our faculty were unprepared to teach online. These thoughts consumed me quickly and made it more evident that I had to choose to take time off from school and focus solely on my job.
So, one morning after I had made up my mind, I emailed my advisor at Regent. “I’m done,” I thought to myself. “You cannot do both, especially not now. Your College needs your complete attention. You are facing uncertain times, and the students, faculty, and your team need you to be fully vested in what you have to do.” In my mind, the only viable option was to put my school on hold, at least until all of this was over.
Then, one Friday morning, I met with my team via Zoom, like we have been doing ever since we started working remotely. Coming together as a team at the end of each week helps us stay connected. It is also a great way to support each other. During these meetings, I do everything I can to encourage them and to make sure they know how much the College appreciates the work they are doing. As their leader, I have to be strong for them. It was during one of these meetings that I was reminded that I am more capable than I give myself credit. During these last couple of months, I had already overcome several obstacles, some of which had already made me stronger and more capable than I ever thought possible. I continuously remind folks around me to work hard and continue pushing forward. What kind of message would I be sending to those around me if I decided to quit school? I could not quit. I have never contemplated quitting anything. It is these challenges that help build our character, that make us stronger, that help us learn lessons that define who we are.
So, I keep moving forward. I work hard during the day, and for a couple of hours every other evening, I continue to work on my dissertation. I have tried to find a balance so that I do not feel overwhelmed because truth be told, I still have a lot of people depending on me.
During these past nine weeks, I have learned that I have a supportive group of people who have truly stepped up their game. This journey is not only about me, but also a team that has walked beside me every step of the way and a champion group of faculty who rose to the challenge of becoming peer mentors. These are the people who help make what I do easier! My strongest support system is my family! Their pride in the work we have been able to do to keep educating our community while I have been working on my dissertation is my pillar of strength. Finally, my faith has been a constant throughout my entire journey. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” Jeremiah 29:11.
I hope that one day when the pandemic is over, and I have successfully defended my dissertation, I can look back and remember that the challenges I faced have not only made me stronger but have made me an even bigger advocate for online education. More importantly, I hope that I remember that I was able to accomplish all this with an outstanding group of people alongside me and with our entire college community, remembering that Laredo College got through this because we are Laredo Strong, we are Laredo College Strong.
Note: The opinions of guest authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of DigiTex.