Editor’s note:This series will allow you to experience“a day in the life“ with various individuals throughout the UC Davis community.After spending timewith theDavis Motorsports Club last time,we‘ll give you a taste of life as a teacher‘s assistant today.
Second-year French graduate student Kristen Kennedypower walksinto her classroom.The clock strikesnoonand she transforms into Madam Kennedy,instructor of beginning French.
“Qui [est] super bon,“ said Kennedy,asking if her students felt good.
After slouching underhertwo heavy book bags,she unloads the weightfrom her arms and shoulders.Besides the book bags,she is also shouldering motherhood.This morning was especially tough after pacifying her teary-eyed daughters Katherine,5,and Clara,3.
“I didn’t see them much,“ Kennedy said.“I had to tell them‘Mommy has to go see her students.‘ They are at the age that they want mearoundphysically.“
After leaving her daughters for the day,she begins the daily90-minute drive up toDavis from her home inPleasanton.This quarter is hectic,and Thursdays punctuate herchaoticschedule.With a three-hour French seminar in the afternoon,she cannotspare the time to go to herbeginningLatin class at11a.m. – a class she needs for her Ph.D.
“I only have so much time,“ Kennedy said.
However,she cannot miss her responsibilities teachingbeginningFrench at noon.Not once in that hour does she sit down.There is no time.For the next hour,she engages her students,weavingamong them,eavesdropping and leavingbits of encouragement.
“She is awesome,“ said Ashley O‘Banion,a sophomore English major.“She is engaging.If you have a question,you‘re not afraid to ask.“
Kennedy,like many Ph.D.candidates,is given the opportunityof subsidizing the cost of her studies by teaching.French professor Bruce Anderson,who coordinates the lower division language program,says graduate students are ideal for teaching French.
“I appreciate them for teaching,“ Anderson said.“They bring youthfulenthusiasm and creativity to students because they are so much closer to their age.And they encourage them to continue to study the language.“
At1p.m.,Kennedy clocks out as Madam Kennedy and jets offto studyintermediate Spanish for an hour.As part ofthe prerequisites for her Ph.D.in French,she is required to take two additional languages.Sapping more of her time today,she has a test in Spanish.
“I think I did well,but I wish I couldhave spent more time [on it],“ Kennedy said.“But I can‘t.I don‘t mean to [not spend time studying].“
But she can‘t worry about that test anymore.Directly following Spanish,she hasagraduate seminar in French from2to5p.m.
“I‘m up here by choice,“ Kennedy said.“I could have been a stay-at-home mom.It‘s easier.But when I am up late at night doing a20-page paper,that is my choice.“
For Kennedy,her choices have defined her life.In her twenties,she went to business school to obtain herMaster of Business Association from St.Mary‘s.She got a job at PeopleSoft in finance,but that was never her passion.
“I got my MBA so I could get a job,“ Kennedy said.“I did it for practical reasons.French – it was always a part of my life.When I was12,I fell in love with it.It went from a hobby,to a skill,and then [hopefully] my profession.“
This seminar in French linguistics will be a foundation for her dissertation and her hopes of professorship.
Just before the three-hour seminar marathon begins,she sneaks a quick lunch,a massive homemade sandwich assembled in a fashion only a husband could make.
“It‘s all meat and maybe a slice of cheese,“ her husband Mark proudly said.“It‘s a guysandwich.“
Mark has taken up cooking,cleaning and bathing the kids to support Kristen‘s dreams.
“I‘m a new-age man and I do the washing – but not much because I mixed the whites and the colors and she hasn‘t forgotten,“ Marksaid jokingly.“But when I see her pulling all-nighters,I amawestricken.I personally wouldn‘t have the mental fortitude to be able to do what she does.I try to do my best to encourage her… to keep going because it‘s worthwhile.“
By5p.m.her seminar also comes to a close.She walks out tired,eyes glazed like afresh-bakedéclair.She shoulders her bags,with the90-minute drive to motherhood still waiting.
“I have a pattern every second week of the quarter,“ Kennedy said.“I have these feelings of,‘How am I going to do this?‘”
Anderson,who also teaches the French graduate seminar,knows life as a graduate student and a parent.He watches Kennedy each quarteras shegets over those treacherous second weeks.
“She has that exhausted look,“ Anderson said.“I‘m also a parent of a5-year-old.My sympathy and compassion comes from there.You have to choose between your kids and graduate school.But she is one of our best.“
She will have to organize school and motherhood,office hours and future PTA meetings.Kennedy has at least three years left in herfive-year Ph.D.program.Those second weeks of each quarter will continue to haunt her.She will have more of those mornings of saying goodbye to her daughters,all-nighters in front of the computer,and“guy sandwiches“ she eats in the spare time before class.
But shehasher priorities organized.
“I‘m organized with [things] that are important,“ Kennedy said.“I am organized with my family and my schoolwork.“
JACKSON YAN can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.XXX