22 August 2012

First day of class

Posted by Callan Bentley

Today is the first day of class for the fall semester at Northern Virginia Community College. For the first time in seven years, however, I won’t be in the classroom. For the 2012-13 academic year, I’ll be on sabbatical.

Sabbatical is a magic word in my mind. It’s a brilliant idea to allow motivated professors to work on things they wouldn’t ordinarily get the time for, and to take time to “recharge their batteries” between bouts of the intense interpersonal work that is teaching. I’ve been actively planning this sabbatical for about three years now, and today’s the day that it’s officially for real.

The way sabbatical works at NOVA is this: Faculty who have worked full time for six years can apply for sabbatical in their 7th year. Ordinarily, that means taking a semester off from teaching, at half pay. There’s a form you have to fill out (of course!) to keep your supervisor in the loop, but the “regular sabbatical” is your due if you want it. There is a second form of sabbatical called the President’s sabbatical. This is a competitive award that offers a semester off at full pay, offered as an incentive for excellence by the thoughtful president of the College, Bob Templin. Again, the eligibility is that you must have six full-time years under your belt before applying, plus you need to have a specific project in mind. The personnel services committee reviews applications, and awards the President’s sabbatical to up to three NOVA faculty per year. I’m pleased to report that I was one of the lucky three this year – I have no shortage of projects worthy of increased attention, but the one I applied for is GigaPan project, M.A.G.I.C. (The Mid-Atlantic Geo-Image Collection is going to be a suite of thematically interconnected geological GigaPans.) In addition to racking up the geological gigapixels, I’ll also be busy with two other big projects: (a) my work on revising the Tarbuck, Lutgens, & Tasa physical geology textbook Earth, and (b) being a new dad: my son is due in about a month. Of course, it turns out I’ve also got a lot more yard work to do at our new house than I did at my DC condo, and that takes time, too.

To cope with this ensemble of new responsibilities, I’m actually taking both kinds of sabbatical, back to back. Officially the fall semester is my “regular” sabbatical, and the spring semester is my President’s sabbatical, but the net result is that I get a year away from the classroom. The next class I teach will be next summer’s edition of the Rockies field course.

I’d like to thank the College for granting me this extraordinary opportunity to do good work away from the lecture hall. I’m honored by their confidence, and hope to produce some useful stuff as a result of this dedicated time.

Anyhow, today’s the day my students and colleagues are back in the classroom, and instead of being there with them, I’m at home, having coffee and watching deer and hummingbirds in the yard, working on the book project, doing a book review for EARTH magazine, editing the Geo2YC newsletter Foundations, and thinking about how lucky I feel. Maybe I’ll go for a run in the national forest later, once I’ve exhausted my intellectual capacity for the day, or haul some rocks around the property to help build up our terraced garden. It’s a good place to be, with good work to do.

My sabbatical won’t be an exotic sojourn in a far-away land, but it’s going to be a unique and special time in my life.