Today, I finished my spring semester grading, and so today marks the final day of the spring semester. Because I know at least a couple people are interested in this self-indulgent project of mine, I thought I’d post my final tally and a few things I learned along the way.
So first, the math:
Time spent in class, office hours, and meeting with students: 44.5 hours
Time spent preparing for class: 4.75 hours
Time spend grading: 13.5 hours
Total teaching hours: 62.75 hours
Total service hours (meetings, plus preparation): 6.5 hours
Total research hours: 4.25 hours
Total work hours for the month of May: 73.5 hours
Because I only had to be on campus for 2 days during finals week, I was required to work 9 days in May so far, I worked just over 8 hours per workday. Odd that finals is what brings me down to a 8-hour workday. But perhaps not, considering that I had very little prep, few service requirements, and did not have to be on campus every day during finals week. Also, I had very little work to do for my current research projects. And I’ll be honest, it does feel a little disappointing to know that I come down to an 8-hour work day when I’m not doing much work on research, service, or preparing for class.
And now the lessons I learned (in no particular order):
1. I need to do a much better job of balancing my work with my personal life. Even when keeping track of my work hours, I still spent too much time focused on the job, and not nearly enough time focused on non-work-related pursuits.*
2. Although committing to not grading on weekends sounded like a good idea at the time, it became increasingly difficult to stick to. And I abandoned it for finals week, in part so that I can go visit family for a few days starting this weekend, before my summer class begins.** Some weekends, not grading was great, as it gave me time to spend several hours on campus working on my book. Some weekends, I managed to take some time just for me (including a couple short trips to Canada). However, at times, it really would have been easier to get some grading done over the weekend, so that I didn’t spend so much time grading on days where I was also teaching, prepping for class, sitting in meetings, etc. One of the ways to make this job manageable is to take advantage of the flexibility that comes with academic work.
3. While I have managed to make grading pretty efficient, I have not been able to do the same regarding service. I honestly don’t mind service. However, I mind very much when it’s a waste of time. Sometimes, meetings can be productive. But one thing I have learned is that far too many of my colleagues use time in meetings to prepare for those meetings. Please, for the love of all that is good and right in the world, don’t ever show up to a meeting unprepared. And if you do, sit there quietly and don’t waste anyone’s time. Also, be on time. But holy fuck do I hate showing up to a 1:00 meeting where most others don’t show up until 1:10, and some people aren’t prepared until 1:15-1:20. Also, I hate attending meetings that can be handled over email. If the purpose of a meeting is to share information, we can do that electronically. If the purpose of the meeting is to collect data, we can do that electronically too. I honestly believe that many of the people I work with enjoy meetings because it gives them a sense of accomplishment that doesn’t come from emails. I like working. But some people like to be seen working. Often, those people are not really working. Sometimes, they are actually prohibiting work from getting done.***
4. As satisfying as it was to punch a clock this semester and collect data, the numbers really don’t tell the whole story. I suppose I could have broken this down by day, even that would not have told the whole story. The time spent working is just that: time. In no way does it indicate effort. Sure, sometimes I was able to walk through my days pretty easily. Others, however, were incredibly stressful and tiresome. And let’s face it, some kinds of work are easier and more fulfilling than others. Reading Whitman’s poetry and Batman graphic novels for class was fun, even though it was work. Thinking about new ways to approach literary theory was difficult, but immensely satisfying. But sitting through meetings where my presence was completely unnecessary, or grading work that was written at the last minute and without much thought, was incredibly draining.^
Honestly, it will probably take me some time to process all that I have learned from this little experiment in naval-gazing. And hopefully, some of what I have learned will help me make the job more manageable. The goal at the outset was to chart my work, to collect data. But now that I have that data – limited as it may be – I now see that the goal really was to help me learn that my life is so much more than my job. And that’s a lesson I’ve needed to learn for some time now.
Thanks for reading. I promise, my next post will be about creative approaches to teaching.
*For the past year, I have been playing guitar. I played bass for many years, and used to fool around on a guitar now and then, but I’ve been playing seriously for the past year. I’ve been learning how to read music for guitar, and have been working on teaching myself some favorite songs. I loved being a musician, and for reasons I don’t fully understand, stopped. It feels good to produce art, and to do something that’s just for my own personal development; it feels good devoting myself to something that won’t go on my CV.
**Every summer, I teach a section of The Short Story. It’s a fun class, easy to prepare, and most importantly, I could really use the money. I keep thinking about changing it (I’ve taught it, pretty much unchanged, for 6 years), but the idea of changing a course in the week between the end of spring semester and the start of summer session (where I teach 3.5 hours per day, every weekday, for nearly 3 weeks), just sounds exhausting. Maybe next year. (But likely not.)
***This is one reason I have started moving away from committee work and instead have begun projects that require me to work on my own, or in some cases directly with the dean and other campus offices. I have done more work that way in one year than I have done in several years sitting on committees. Now that I have tenure, I can move away from committee work, and actually accomplish something meaningful.
^This is the third time I have taught our intro to theory course, and I think I’m starting to get it right. I made some changes to the readings, changed the final exam, and most importantly, spent more time getting out of the books. This is something I hope to do next semester, when I teach a course on Modern American Poetry for the first time.