So I know I’ve been falling down on the blogging. Frankly, things have just been so nutso in real life since the end of last semester that I haven’t had the time or the energy or the writing mojo to post. Indeed, in meeting up with some bloggy peeps at the MLA Convention, I even said that I wondered whether I was even feeling like blogging at all anymore. But never fear! I’m not hanging up my blogging hat just yet. I do think, however, I might be transitioning into a new phase of some sort. No, I’m not sure what that will mean, but I do think that maybe I’ve outgrown what the blog has been since my sabbatical in 2010. (It might be true that every 4 or 5 years I feel like I need to adjust the blog. My 10-year blogiversary is coming up in July, and since blog years are like dog years, it maybe makes sense that I can’t just keep going without changing it up periodically.)
But so it’s 2014! And I couldn’t be more pleased! I’m ready for the fresh start that the new year brings. I’ve made my resolutions – recommit to fitness goals, have fun with dating, finish my book manuscript, accumulate new experiences and have adventures, and knit beautiful things for the people I love – and I’m feeling very positive.
And in spite of a somewhat chaotic start to January what with a broken pipe which left me without water and which got in the way of me writing my MLA paper before I actually went to the conference, things are going very well.
First of all, I had a great MLA. It was awesome to hang with BES, who attended the MLA for the first time, and to see it freshly through her eyes. It was awesome to meet up for coffee with another former student who is now in her first year of an MA program in the Chicago area. It was awesome because I saw some of my favorite people from my grad school cohort, and everybody is doing so well! One friend is a publishing machine and he and his partner have ended up with tenured jobs at the same excellent public R1 (in different departments). Another friend is up for tenure at an amazing public R1, and he’s got his second book contract. Another friend, while still seeking the elusive tenure-track gig, has managed to carve out contingent positions that aren’t terribly exploitative and he’s got a toddler and a new baby and personally he seems to be happy in his life. I saw old friends from various conferences over the ages, and I realized that I’m at the point where I actually have “old friends” (like, people I’ve known for 10+years) who are also colleagues – and we are all active and engaged in the profession in various ways, and that is grand. I didn’t get more than 5 hours of sleep any night, and I was losing my voice by Friday because of all of the talking, and it was superb and also made me realize that perhaps I’m going to need to stop hitting the MLA quite so hard, because DAMN. And my paper went well and was well attended in spite of the fact that it was late in the conference and many, many people had already headed off to the airport. It was a professionally and personally energizing weekend, in spite of the delay on my flight home and in spite of the fact that I had to teach the very next morning. (Though I will note: with these motherfucking dates, I will in the future plan to have somebody fill in for me and pass out my syllabi for me on the first day of classes if I go to the MLA – especially if the location is not in the Eastern time zone and I have to or want to stay until the bitter end. It is totally unreasonable to try to turn around from the convention and teach immediately. As much as the old dates sucked, they didn’t conflict with my ability to teach effectively. These new dates actually get in the way of me doing my job well.)
But even with my frustration over the MLA happening the 4 days before my semester starts, I’m really excited for the Spring semester, in which I’m teaching courses about which I’m really excited and in which I have students who seem enthusiastic (at this early juncture – for I don’t know most of them, though the ones I do know are universally delightful and hard-working and smart, especially in the critical theory course, which is crucial since I need some delightful, hard-working, and smart students to set the tone in there).
And what makes this even better is this: I am so fucking happy with my schedule for this semester! I know, it’s only two days in. Let’s see how I feel around week 4 of the semester. But seriously: I really think that this is a GREAT SCHEDULE.
You might be shocked to hear that my “great schedule” has me on campus 5 days a week. So let me tell you the story of how I ended up with this schedule, and how I ended up overjoyed at finally getting the Scheduling Gods to agree to it.
So when I started with my tenure-track job, lo, those many years ago, my schedule tended to be 5 days a week. I would teach two classes (usually comp) on M/W/F and then two classes (usually lit) on T/R. This meant that I was done teaching on M/W/F by 1, and done on T/R by 3 (if not earlier). Now, because I was new-ish, I didn’t have the service burden that emerged later, but it’s also true that it was with this schedule that I revised my dissertation into a book and managed to get my book contract and to revise my book manuscript for publication, all the while developing the 672 courses that I’ve taught in my time here, and all while teaching a 4/4 load. Going to teach every day actually made me MORE productive, not less, in terms of research.
Things with my schedule changed (by my own request) right around the time that I was going up for tenure, for a couple of reasons that seemed great at the time. The first issue that as my service load ramped up, I felt like the 5-day schedule would keep me on campus in ways that would obstruct any research agenda I might have, and which would make my workload “unfair” in comparison with the workloads of other people in my department. (Regarding the “unfair” thing: one of my mom’s favorite aphorisms is “don’t measure with a yardstick,” by which she means, don’t make decisions for yourself or evaluate yourself according to what other people do. This is really good advice, but it can be hard advice to take in a context in which it seems like you’re getting “the short end of the stick” and doing more work than other people. It seemed to me at the time that changing my schedule would put me on more equal footing with colleagues who weren’t obligated to be on campus as much as I was, but I now realize that changing to a 2 or 3 day a week schedule didn’t actually make my workload “equal” to theirs.) The second thing that made me change my schedule is that when we got our grad program, teaching in it required night teaching. Since I teach every other year in the grad program, it seemed “sensible” to move to a schedule that left me two free days in a week, during which I could work on scholarship.
EXCEPT. What I hadn’t really thought through was the exhaustion that would result from teaching three courses in one day on both Tuesday and Thursday. Nor did I realize that after teaching a night course, from which I wouldn’t get home until 9:30 or 10 at night, I would be so keyed up that I wouldn’t be able to relax and get to bed at a reasonable time. Nor did I account for the fact that I’d get home at 9:30 or 10 at night and then need to be back on campus no later than 9 AM, and what that would be like. And finally, I didn’t account for the fact that since my Tuesdays and Thursdays were so jam packed with classroom time that I would always need to be on campus 4-5 days a week anyway, in order for there to be time for meetings, both for committee-work and to meet with students, and that teaching work (prep and grading) would necessarily bleed over into my non-teaching days.
So what I discovered was that on my non-teaching days either I was too tired to do active research, or I was busy with meetings so couldn’t keep a consistent schedule for research. And further, I realized that I was actually on campus for more total time than I was on campus when I was there every single day, thus nullifying my whole “I’m going to make my workload equal to the workload of shirkers and slackers” theory.
So for some time now, I’ve been longing for the “good old days” in which I had a 5-day schedule. And now, I have finally returned to it!
Again, I know it’s only been two days, two days in which I’ve basically distributed syllabi. And I may retract all of this in just a few weeks’ time. But I already notice positive differences:
1) In spite of starting the semester with a work deficit because of the MLA Convention, I am, pretty much, on track after two days of work – and by “two days” I mean about 5 hours of work outside of class time over that two days, but 5 hours in which I was energized and not totally exhausted. And I did productive work both on my courses and on my Major Service Responsibility. AND I’ve had time to chat with colleagues, too, and to be pleasant and responsive, which I feel like hasn’t happened in this way since before tenure, frankly.
2) Also, in spite of starting the semester with a TOTAL sleep deficit, and also possibly still hung over (because DUDE, the MLA over-indulgence), I felt GOOD at the end of teaching today. Hell, I feel good now. Getting a full eight hours of relaxed and solid sleep makes so much fucking difference I can’t even describe it. Both in terms of the energy that I bring to the classroom and in terms of my own feeling of well-being.
3) I’m finding it easier to remember new student names. I’d thought my problems with that over the past 5 or so years were about just having been teaching for so long. But now I’m thinking it was maybe that I was seeing too many different students in one day over the past five years.
4) I didn’t wake up, either yesterday or today, with the thought, “I wish I didn’t have to teach.” Seriously, I’ve woken up with that thought almost every single day – even at this early juncture in a semester – since I moved away from the 5-day schedule.
Look, I’m not saying that this schedule is for everybody. I know it isn’t. But with a 4/4 load, with 4 different preps in a semester, maybe it’s better to spread the teaching time out. Also, maybe this works for me precisely because I’m extroverted, and this means that I actually am less productive if I don’t get out in the world with people in bursts each day. (My theory on why this might be better for me is that interacting with SO MANY PEOPLE in two days and then seeing very few or no people the other five days throws me out of whack, making the people exhausting even for extroverted me. Whereas, interacting with 50 people every single day, consistently, actually keeps my energy up. I dunno.) But I will say this: I’m thinking I may stick with the 5-day schedule even when I next teach in the grad program, just making sure that on the following day I don’t teach until afternoon. We’ll see.
Here’s the thing: I think that I went to teaching fewer days a week in part because that is a model that “works” for research at a research university, and it fit with advice I’d gotten from mentors in grad school. But while teaching a lighter teaching load only two or three days a week might make some sense, teaching a 4/4 load on only two or three days a week, at least for me, does not.
What I need is consistency and to feel like I can structure my available time in ways that really work for all of the parts of my job. It’s easy to let teaching overtake everything, and then, once teaching has filled up as much time as possible, to let service take whatever tiny bit is left. But research matters to me, and spreading my teaching schedule out makes me feel like I am allowed to set aside time for research, too, at least right now.
So for the time being, I’m feeling very positive about this change. And I’m excited to see whether I can produce some concrete results with it.
(And it doesn’t hurt that everybody thinks I am some sort of saint for having this schedule. Especially when I’m less exhausted than I was when people were busy envying my old shitty schedule. It’s nice to be congratulated for doing what ultimately makes me a much happier person, as opposed to being treated like crap for doing what makes me feel like crap.)
Oh, and you likely won’t hear from me again until next week because I am going away for the weekend to celebrate my high school friend Naomi’s 40th birthday in a locale with beaches and sun (although the weather looks like it will be kinda lame for beach-related activities).