It has been some time since my last post, I will admit. There are numerous things I would like to post about, but I’m still forming my thoughts and, in some cases, doing my research. I’m hoping to have another detailed post about labor issues and adjunct life at SUNY, but there are many facts I need to check, and people I need to talk to, so it may be some time before I can address that post.
Instead, I’ll use this post to begin accounting for my time spent working. As I mentioned in a previous post, I will post monthly updates of my work schedule. As noted earlier, I have several reasons for doing so, including:
1. I want to see how I divide my time between my various tasks, in part to see if I can make better use of my time.
2. I want to consciously fight against “job creep.”
Regarding #1, I know that I feel I spend most of my day working. Part of this is because, even when I’m not engaged in work-specific tasks, part of my brain is processing work-related issues: how can I best teach a poem?, how should I schedule the reading I need to do in order to revise my book?, how exactly do different schools of narrative theory work together? As with most scholars, I never do completely stop thinking about work, and insight comes at various times.* For the purposes of my project, however, I will be ignoring all of that work in my accounting. Rather, I will only be reporting the time I explicitly spend working on specific tasks.
Regarding #2, I am going to make a conscious effort to step away from work more often. Today is Superb Owl Sunday,** and I will be watching the game with friends. Although some of my friends will bring work to do (often grading), I refuse; this is my time with my friends, and I will not miss out on the company of good people because parts of my job need attending to. I also would like to spend more time playing guitar, and I am specifically carving out time to do so. I used to play electric bass – playing in various bands in high school and college – but stopped several years ago. More recently, I have started playing guitar – relearning how to read music, teaching myself favorite songs, etc. – and need to do a better job of not feeling guilty when I engage in non-work-related pursuits.***
I have also made the decision to not do any grading over the weekends. It’s very common – in fact, it’s often expected – that faculty will grade over the weekends. This semester, I refuse to do so. I have obligations in the office Monday through Friday (mostly teaching, but some service obligations), giving me the standard 5-day work week. I’m entitled to my weekends. I do plan on using the weekends for some work-related tasks – for instance, I am working on 2 books this semester, and I will also prepare for class discussions – but I will not grade. I draw this line in the sand because grading is part of the invisible work engaged by teaching faculty; grading is an expectation, but not at all accounted for in our on-campus work. In fact, when I was first hired, one of the administrators presenting during the New Faculty Orientation suggested that we do our grading on our own time, and that we were expected to be on campus – engaged in teaching, service, and advising – during standard work hours on weekdays.
So that’s the why; now for the how:
I will record time spent working in three main areas: teaching, service, and research. Within those three broad areas, I will account for the following tasks:
Teaching: this will include the time spent in the classroom, in office hours and meeting with students, preparing for class, and grading.
Service: this will include time spent in department meetings, committee meetings, preparing for those meetings, and advising.
Research: this will include time spent reading for my research projects, taking notes, drafting and revising, and communicating with editors/presses.
A few general notes are in order, to help put my accounting system into context:
1. I teach 4 courses per semester. This semester, I am teaching 2 sections of our introduction to literary theory, one section of a senior-level course on Walt Whitman and The Walt Whitman Archive, and a graduate course on Batman.
2. My sections of theory are full (and capped at 25 students), but my other 2 courses are significantly under-enrolled: I have 6 students in the Whitman course (with a cap of 20 students) and 5 students in the Batman course (with a cap of 12 students). As such, this is the fewest number of students I have worked with since I was first hired in 2007. However, both of my upper-division courses are new preps (and outside of my research areas), so any time I gain by having less grading to do, I lose by having more preparation for my classes.
3. I am currently working on two book projects. The first is based on my dissertation, titled Failed Frontiersmen: Myth, Masculinity, and Multiculturalism in the Post-1960s American Historical Romance; the second is a co-edited collection of essays, titled Race, Ethnicity, and Narrative in the Americas. Because of various deadlines, I will be working on both projects this semester. For the first, I need to revise certain chapters at the request of anonymous readers at the University of Virginia Press; I hope to have a contract for this book by the end of the semester. For the second, I need to review drafts of the submissions, suggest possible revisions, and compose the collection’s introduction. I hope to have a full book proposal for the Ohio State University Press by the end of the semester.^
4. In the past, I spent time reading and preparing for my classes before the first day of the semester. Not so this semester. Although I was engaged in my research over break – mostly in finishing the work on Post-Soul Satire: Black Identity after Civil Rights – I did not start prepping for classes until the semester started; I want to see if I can get all the work done for the semester during the semester. (This is another aspect of job creep I would like to fight, the presumption that my breaks and holidays are to be used for teaching-related duties.)
Anyway, thanks for reading this far. Now for January’s work log. Keep in ind that this reflects 2 weeks’ of work:
Time spent in class, office hours, and meeting with students: 39.5 hours
Time spent preparing for class: 16.25 hours
Time spend grading: 1 hour
Total teaching hours: 56 hours, 45 minutes
Total service hours (meetings, plus preparation): 4 hours, 30 minutes
Time spent reading and taking notes: 10 hours
Time spent writing and revising: 11.5 hours
Total research hours: 21 hours, 30 minutes
Total January Work Hours (for 2 weeks’ worth of work): 82 hours, 45 minutes
On the one hand, this looks fairly comforting; I was paid for 2 weeks’ of work,^^ and I worked slightly more than what is generally considered to be “full time.” (However, I should point out that the US Department of Labor sets no standard for the definition of “full time employment.”) On the other hand, I want to point out that I only spend 1 hour grading. This will certainly increase over the course of the semester. This month’s grading consisted of reading 4 short responses by students in my graduate class. When my 50 undergraduates in my 2 theory sections turn in their first essays, I will be spending a great deal of time grading those.
I also want to note that nearly half of my working time was spent in the classroom (12 hours every week, so 24 hours for January), in scheduled office hours (4 hours every week, so 8 hours for January), or meeting with students outside of those hours 11.5 hours). The time spent meeting with students outside of class and office hours will surely decrease; it’s always busy at the start of the semester, and students need to meet to have forms signed, etc. Until I did the math, I didn’t realize just how much time I spend at the start of the semester dealing with students outside of mandatory class and office hours time. Admittedly, some of this time is spent between classes answering an ever-growing number of student emails. Instead of answering emails as they come, I am trying to limit my time spent checking my work email. I will devote a small period of time every day (Monday through Friday) to answer student emails. But I will not allow myself to be on-call 24/7.
In the coming months, I will not only post my work hours, but comment on the changes to my work habits. For instance, it’s too early in the semester to have any significant grading to do. My time spent grading will certainly increase, especially as we get to the end of the semester. Similarly, by the end of the semester, time spent prepping for classes will decrease. My research hours will likely be variable.
The ultimate goal is to work one full-time job. We’ll see how this plays out. Thanks for reading.
*For example, the basic argument for my forthcoming article “Focalization, Ethics, and Cosmopolitanism in James Welch’s Fools Crow“came to me in a dream. I tripped over myself getting out of bed in order to jot down some notes – most of which I could translate the following morning. I often forget to carry a notebook with me, though I really should start doing so.
**I have no desire to test how far the NFL will go to protect their trademarks.
***This is the biggest problem with job creep. As the demands for the job pile up – higher caps on classes, more learning objective for general education courses, more service requirements, etc. – it’s increasingly easy to feel guilty for not devoting one’s entire life to the job. This is especially true for educators, who are often made to feel that their job is a calling, and anything less than complete devotion demonstrates a lack of commitment to students. Those who sacrifice their personal lives to the job are called “devoted.” Those who do not are called “aloof.”
^My co-editors and I are also participating in the Narrative conference, where we will be presenting on panels with many of the volume’s contributors. As such, I will also need to prepare a short conference presentation, and responses to the papers being presented.
^^If you choose to ignore the state-mandated deficit-reduction days, which means that I am still expected to work, but I will not get paid. But that’s a different post for a different time.