Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Thoughts Two Days into the New Semester

So, I've met with each of my classes one time, I've kvetched with colleagues, I've had a meeting, I've been irrationally irritated at the fascists who administer parking on this campus. The new semester is solidly underway. My thoughts thus far:

I'm actually excited about all of my classes. I'm excited about my freshmen for the usual reasons (they are New! and Excited! and New!). I'm excited about my survey because I've revamped the syllabus and changed the books and changed, well, far too much, but I think that it will give me new energy for teaching the course. The last time I taught it, things were beginning to feel a bit stale, and I think changing up some of the texts and the way that I do some assignments is going to breathe new life into the course. Now, obviously I'm doing a lot of the same sorts of things that I've done in the past, but I think the changes that I've made will be interesting both for me and for them. Finally, I'm super excited about my upper-level class. The students seem really into the topic, and while I know there will be glitches because this is the very first time I'm teaching the course, and I think I hit the right note tone-wise on the first day - a tone of "we can have fun but we've got to be smart in the ways that we talk about things and there has to be a core of seriousness to our approach." I'd been a bit worried about that, but all felt good once I got up there in front of them.

I'm also really pleased about the amount of prep that I've managed to do in the past month, even if it was at the expense of some other things that I need to be doing. It means that this semester should be pretty stress-free prep-wise, and I do feel like I need that. I was talking with a friend last night about teaching styles, and I do seem to be a little anal about how I approach syllabus and assignment design. I suppose for me it's important to have a strong plan in place so that I don't freak out. That's not to say that there's no flexibility within the plan, but the plan itself is set in stone. I don't get more than a day behind on a syllabus, and if I do we catch up within a class period or two. I have only in the most rare circumstances cut a text from a course. Deadlines and assignments listed on the syllabus do not change. All of that stuff, for me to be comfortable, needs to be the case. So no, I'm not the sort of "laid-back" professor who let's a class set its own pace. I set the pace, well in advance of students ever entering the picture. Sometimes I wish I were a little less control-freaky in that particular way, but then, when I was a student I hated classes with the laid-back professor who let the class set its own pace. I needed structure then, and apparently I still need it now.

I can't really think about all of what I'm not doing research-wise. Deadlines (both internal and external) loom, and I know I need to kick it into high gear this weekend and stay in high gear in a pretty sustained way for the next two months. But I'm giving myself permission to focus on teaching until the classes are taking care of themselves and they hit their stride. I can't do all these things at once.

Hmmm. Well, I gave my chair my preferences for committee work today, and I also have committed to continue to serve on a university committee that I'm on. I'm also, apparently, agreeing to advise a student publication (which I really love and which I really want to continue on in as awesome a fashion as it has over the past couple of years, and I know I'm an idiot for taking this on, but I really do want to do it, at least for this semester - I can bow out if I need to or want to, so this isn't a lifetime commitment or anything). Finally, I'm going to lead a book discussion (just one book, just one meeting) at some point this spring for a community group. Other than that? I MUST SAY NO TO ALL THINGS. Well, all things beyond judging writing contests in the spring, which take no time and are easy service.

Edging Ever Closer to Tenure:
Well, since I've talked about the three areas, I might as well talk a bit about the fact that I am a year away from going up. Now, at my institution we submit a binder Every. Single. Year. So I know exactly what is required, exactly how to put the thing together - actually, it's ALREADY put together, and I just need to add, year after year, and to tweak the statements. Can I just say that I think this is a brilliant way to deal with the tenure and promotion process, even if it is extra busy-work throughout one's time on the tenure track? Because, sure, it's a pain in the ass, but it completely demystifies the process. And that's the thing about my university, really: it's not really one where mystification is the norm. Perhaps type of institution plays into this, but I really think it's a special thing about this particular place. Not that there aren't irritating things about the place, as all places are irritating, but there is a transparency here that is really, really great. On top of that, I really do have great colleagues, in that we truly are a collegial bunch and in ways that are above and beyond saying hi in the hallway. The best example I can give is that a colleague of mine has been dealing with a difficult family situation, and my entire department has come together to make meals for the colleague's family and to provide a kind of support that I just don't think happens in most departments. This may not be a place that's particularly good at welcoming newcomers or at providing social support in other kinds of ways, but when it really counts, people here are really good-hearted and kind people (and I use those words consciously). It won't be the worst thing in the world (and in fact could be a good thing) if I get tenure here and make my career at this place (because I really do think that I'd be reluctant to leave if I don't do it pre-tenure). I'm keeping my options open because it's stupid not to do so, but I'm happy here now in a way that I just wasn't last year at the same time. I'm in a much more centered place, both with the job and with my life outside the job. All of that is something I'm ultimately really grateful for, because wow did it suck to feel like I wasn't centered and like I had to find a way out.

You'd think with all of the above that I have no time for a social life right now. Not so! I've got plans for coffee Thursday, I'm going out on Friday - and who knows what plans might materialize in weeks to come! And on top of all of that I've got a vibrant long-distance social life via the telephone! (Speaking of which, Medusa and I have been talking about the need to stage a happy hour at one or the other of our blogs soon, while we're on the phone with each other, of course, so the long-distance social life may also go global!) So never fear, faithful readers, Crazy is not a total workaholic, just a partial one.

So those are my thoughts on this Tuesday night, with the semester well under way.


phd me said...

Here's another control-freaky prof! Your syllabi sound like mine, and even though the students look extremely stricken when they read them for the first time, I think they appreciate it in the end. I know I do! As much work as it is to figure out reading timelines and assignment dates and lecture topics far enough in advance to commit them to print, it makes for a much smoother semester all round.

Your life sounds good right now. Congrats!

Doctor Pion said...

Kudos to your school for that tenure process. Our CC has a similar system in place, so that the new faculty are working on their portfolio from the very first year. It works well.

Sisyphus said...

When you say, "set in stone and pre-prepared," do you mean the reading list and dates assignments are due or are you also preparing the actual assignment prompts beforehand too? (says the girl who is still trying to write an assignment for some readings that didn't actually fit together the way she thought they did).

I always know what we're reading and when, and _that_ there will be x number of assignments, but other than that I tend to fly blind.

Shaun Huston said...

The Social Science Division at Western also has an annual portfolio review for those on the tenure track. Not having to do that anymore was an immediate bonus of earning tenure and promotion, but it certainly was a helpful exercise. I do think what mattered most, though, was that it was undergirdded by meaningful feedback from the Division PRC. Knowing where you stand as you inch towards submitting your file for t and p was invaluable. This is not a university wide practice and my understanding is that faculty in other divisions may be less anchored when they go up. It seems like you get the same kind of support that I enjoyed from my Division.