The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble?—Do-you-need-advice?—Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard. —

Hello everyone.  It’s been a month since my last post, and my only excuse is that I’ve been pretty busy.  I am slowly working on a post regarding new developments in non-tenure-track contract in the SUNY system, but it will be a while before I can write that post.  I’m currently talking to adjuncts to whom this contract has been offered, and trying to gather background information.  Needless to say, the contract is an abomination.  But that’s another post for another time.  Just letting you all know that I’m researching, and not letting my interest in this issue slide.


Today is the last day of February, so it’s time for me to post my monthly work update, accounting for the time spent working.  For a refresher, please see my earlier post; here is how I am accounting for my time:

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.

*I need to point out that I am in no way trying to manage my time to fill a certain number of hours, or come to any pre-determined total figure.  In fact, while I am recording the time spent on a day-to-day basis, I have not been keeping a running tab.  I have not done the math yet.  In fact, please give me a minute while I grab my calculator…


OK, here are the results:


Time spent in class, office hours, and meeting with students: 66.5 hours

Time spent preparing for class: 30.25 hours

Time spend grading: 14 hours

Total teaching hours: 110.75 hours


Total service hours (meetings, plus preparation): 14.5 hours


Time spent reading and taking notes: 16.75 hours

Time spent writing and revising: 28.75 hours

Total research hours: 45.5 hours

Total work hours for the month of February: 170.5 hours


Because there were 28 total days in February, this means I averaged just over 6 hours of work per day, including weekends.

Because there were 8 weekend days, 2 days of February Break, and I took 1 sick day (for which I was paid), there were 11 non-work days, and 17 work days in the month of February.  However, because I am paid for sick days, let’s include those as “work days,” under the theory that if I am getting paid, I should be working.*  So over 18 days for which I was paid, I worked an average of just under 9.5 hours per work day.

So now, what does all of this mean, and what’s the context for the raw data?


First off, I’d like to note that this semester, I only have 55 students.  (6 students dropped since I posted last month, all from my sections of Literary Analysis and Research.)  Most semesters, I have over 100 students (last semester I had 112 students).  So I have half as many students this semester as I usually do, which means I am doing half the grading I normally would.  Also, of those 55 students 5 did not turn in any work this month.**

14 hours of grading in one month is not much at all, especially when you consider I only have to grade work from 50 students.  However, that’s less that half of my normal grading load.  Also, as the semester progresses, there will be more grading, as the assignments get longer.


However, because I am teaching two new upper-division courses (a senior-level course on Whitman and the Archive, and a graduate course on Batman), I am spending more time in prep than I normally would.  Because I don’t have raw data from previous semesters, I suppose it’s safe to assume that whatever time I am saving by grading such little student work, I am losing by preparing for two new courses, neither of which is connected to my research agenda.  Just over 30 hours of prep for the month means that I devoted almost an entire work week just to prepare for classes.


Also, I spent the equivalent of on full work week on research.  This is unsurprising.  I have looming deadlines for both of my current book projects (as well as an upcoming conference tied to one of those book projects), so I will be devoting a fair amount of time to those projects.  I hope to have both of them done and off to the presses by May, which will give me the time I need to grade final exams and final essays.


I should also note that all of the time accounted for is actually spent working.  None of that time includes breaks.  When I am on campus, I have 1 hour between classes, which I always use to do paperwork, answer emails, or deal with other small tasks while I eat lunch (and sometimes chat with colleagues who pop in to say hello).  But all of the time spent grading, writing, reading, etc., is time spent working.  To put this in context, when I worked in a labor union, I was giving 30 minutes of break time for every 8 hours of work.  So 8 hours “at work” meant 7 hours working, and 30 minutes on break.  The same is not true for my work now.  When I stop reading, grading, etc., I stop the clock.  So that 170.5 hours is all time spent working.***


This is not horrific.  That is, this is not an overwhelming amount of work.  I know many academic who spend much more time than this.  Especially adjuncts, who are often spending more time in the classroom and in other teaching-related activities.  Especially those teaching Freshman Composition, which is very time-intensive, especially when it comes to grading.  That said, however, roughly 10 hours per day for every day I am getting paid is clearly above-and-beyond my contractual obligations.  Now, I could easily cut that time back by spending less time on research.  I have tenure; I no longer need to do research to keep my job.  I could say the same, of course, about service.  I could drop all of my committee work.


That is, I could make my life so much easier if I stopped engaging with my discipline, and quietly dumped service work onto my untenured colleagues.  Of course, the first would quickly make me intellectually stale, and the second would make me an asshole.  I truly enjoy my research; I love the work I’m doing, the people I’m doing it with, and am finding exciting ways to bring it into the classroom.  Sharing my research with my students makes class more interesting, for me and for the students.  I don’t want to become that cliche, the tenured professor whose lectures haven’t changed in decades, who has no idea what is happening in the field.


But more importantly, I really don’t want to be that asshole who steps away from service because of tenure.  I loathe those people.  For starters, it’s an unethical move, forcing junior faculty to pick up the slack, knowing they are not in a position to say no.  That is precisely why I served on a search committee in my first semester on the job.  Why I took over directing my department’s First-Year Interest Group.  And why I spent time in my first two years updating the department’s internship information, even though I have never directed an internship.  All three of these were presented as “opportunities,” and I did not feel comfortable saying no.^  I will not do that to my colleagues.^^  


All that being said, however, it’s clear that the majority of my time is devoted to teaching, which I think is as it should be.  My university values teaching above all other activities – and explicitly notes that teaching is the most important consideration of tenure and promotion – and I do love being in the classroom.  I put the time I do into preparing for class because I want to do well, because I want to be able to lead conversation thoughtfully and expansively (meaning that I am prepared not just to talk about the text, but to move outside of the text in productive and creative ways).


So that’s my February clock-punching post.  I hope to have an update on adjunct issues at SUNY before my next monthly post.  And perhaps I’ll even manage a teaching-related post, likely on how I am incorporating the online Walt Whitman Archive into my teaching.  This is the first time I have ever used on online archive in the classroom, and I’m having a great deal of fun with it, and the students seem to be enjoying it as well.  I suspect I’m not making the most of the experience, but I am keeping notes for the future, so that hopefully I can do a better job by my students with such experiments in the future.


*Yeah, I think this is a pretty stupid way of thinking about it, too.  I have contractually-obligated sick days.  I am allowed to take them, and allowed not to work on those days.  So if we only count 17 work days, then I worked an average of just over 10 hours per work day.

**This is actually not uncommon.  I always have a couple students who just don’t turn in work.  They don’t turn in essays.  They fail those essays.  I really don’t understand it.  I will never understand students who just don’t turn in the work.

***When I read at home (or grade, or write, etc.), for instance, I note the time I start reading.  When I take a break, I note that time, as well as when I go back to work.  It might be a fine line that I am drawing, but I want to account for my time spent actually working, as honestly as possible.

^One of my colleagues, when I was asked to serve on a search committee, flat out told me that it was dangerous for a new faculty member to say no.  I was told it would make me look unhelpful and unwilling to “pitch in.”

^^We already have a difficult time keeping junior faculty.  Nearly half of all the Assistant Professors we have hired in the past 4 years have left for other jobs.



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3 responses to “The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble?—Do-you-need-advice?—Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard. —

  1. Matthew Davis

    I’d be really interested in how you’re using the archive in your teaching, where you think it works well, and where it falls short. I’m putting together an archive of editions of Lydgate’s minor poems (maybe the major ones too if I get a grant or something) and so I want to know how similar tools work in the classroom.

    • Right now, every Friday is devoted to playing around with the archive in class. Every Friday, we pick a different section of the archive, and see what’s archived. We then start discussing how that information might be useful in helping us to understand the poetry.

      For instance, today we spent time investigating copies of Whitman’s notebooks and hand-written drafts of his poems. We talked about the process of revision, and brainstormed out load regarding what changes he made in his drafts and why he might have made those changes, based on the final product and what we know of his aesthetic and political philosophies.

      Mostly, we are simply exploring. I didn’t have any idea what I would do with the archive, and I have no background in “digital humanities.” So this is pure exploration; what can we do with the information? The students will have to write a short essay about the archive, and focus on one way that archive can help us better understand the poetry. One student will be looking at hand-written drafts to write about the process of revision. Another is interested in how the archive materials are organized, and how the theory of organization encourages certain kinds of engagement with the poetry over others (and may affect interpretation).

      Maybe I’ll make that post at the end of the semester, and focus on the work the students end up doing. Right now, we’re just exploring, and it’s pretty damn exciting. I’d like to incorporate more of this kind of work in the classroom, if only to help me engage the students in more ways.

  2. Pingback: Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing. | creativityinthecollegeclassroom

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