Ends of semesters are different now for me than they were even, say, five years ago. They are certainly different from what they were like for me as a student. It used to be that I would get about one month out from the end of the semester, and I would actually get a burst of energy – I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, as they say, and I would be excited about that. That burst would push me through to the end. And I would revel in the time during finals week, the sense of being on a scaled back schedule, the sense that things got easier at the end. (This was even true for me when I was a student, and it was certainly true for me pre-tenure.)
But with increasing responsibilities (Committees, Task Forces, and Working Groups – Oh My!), that light at the end of the tunnel can feel more like a train that’s barreling down the track heading straight for me. How am I going to get it all done? Is there really time for another meeting? If I don’t respond to that email (or 20) until the semester is over, is that going to work, or will everything come crashing down around me because of something overlooked?
It occurs to me that the existential bloggy crisis that motivated my past couple of posts is really deeply connected, more deeply connected than I’ve consciously acknowledged, to how my job has changed since earning tenure and “ascending” to associate professor rank. (The irony of that terminology makes me giggle, as often, life at the associate professor rank can feel like one is sinking in quicksand.) Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t feel “stuck” at associate professor, or “stalled.” For one thing, I haven’t been at this rank for all that long. And I am making steady progress to going up for full professor. But, for me, working as an associate professor really has felt (I believe, upon reflection) like I’m doing a different job from the one I was doing as an assistant professor, and a very different job from the one that I was trained to do in graduate school. The challenges of that are interesting, and I do feel empowered (though also impatient and frustrated) by the different responsibilities that have come with tenure and promotion.
But regardless of all of the above, it is, indeed, true that semesters do end. And thank goodness that they do.
I have never felt more ready for a semester to end than I have felt this spring. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been having dreams about the book I’m supposedly writing – supposedly because there has been no time for writing for a hundred years. And while I’m happy about some of what I’ve accomplished this semester, I’m also ready to accomplish a lot of things that are impossible to accomplish in the swirl of meetings.
Because, see, it’s the meetings that are the problem. The problem is feeling like I have to fight – constantly – for things that seem obvious to me. It’s the load of paperwork and politicking.
People act like professors are a bunch of slackers who don’t want to teach. Look: I teach four courses a semester. And I don’t hate teaching, and I don’t actually want to teach less. I want the time to teach the way that I’m capable of teaching – I want time to really reflect on the work that I do as a teacher, to design new assignments, to think about the texts that I teach and to connect those ideas to the ways in which I present those texts to my students. I want time to do my best by my students. And that is the thing that is lost in the current structure of higher education, for tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty alike. For those of us on the tenure-track, we’re so burdened with the work of running the university that teaching gets short shrift, regardless of how many courses per semester we teach. For those off the tenure-track, they are so burdened with their contingent status (lack of office space, lack of job security, lack of resources to do their jobs well – like computers, photocopying privileges, etc. – and while these issues are tougher for part-timers, they affect full-time non-t-t faculty as well).
I need “summers off” not because I don’t care about teaching, but because I do. I can’t do my best as a teacher unless I have some time to recharge – to get some energy back after being slammed for 9 months out of the year with crap that has little to nothing directly to do with teaching or research.
And so with that, I need to get myself in the shower, finish cheffing up breakfast for my writing students (fruit salad and strada, in case you’re wondering), and take myself off to my last hideous Tuesday of this semester – indeed, EVER, because I will NEVER agree to this schedule again, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.