Sunday, September 9, 2007

Thoughts on New Professordom

I'm entering my 4th week of classes here and I thought I'd take a little moment to reflect on the nuevo job. I guess I'll split it up into the Holy Triumverate of Academe: Teaching, Service, Research.

1) Teaching:
The students here are truly lovely - and I mean that from the heart. Some of them don't talk as much as I'd like and I have a feeling that if they've already read some of the canonical texts we're reading this semester, they're not re-reading them for my class, but for the most part they're engaged and interested. This has to do largely with the demographic of student here - a different one than I've ever taught, actually. Many of the students here are paying their own way through college - working, taking out loans, etc. They're not getting full rides from the folks (not that that's better or worse, it's just different). As a result of that, I've seen a level of personal responsiblity from these students that trumps pretty much anything I've been used to. There are always slackers of every ilk anywhere you go, but they don't stand out as much here.

Another interesting thing about the students is that many of them already have children. They're maybe only a year or two older than the typical undergrad, but I have a lot of married and pregnant students (all of whom have told me their due dates and are on top of things should something unexpected happen). Also, a lot of women have husbands or boyfriends in Iraq or Afganistan. This area supports a lot of military and it's interesting to hear that the reason why they missed a class wasn't because they were upset or having a hard time because of a hangnail, but because their husband got an unexpected leave from Iraq and they took their kids to the base to see him for 48 hours before he was deployed again. They're not asking for special consideration, they're just letting me know that they respect my time and want to tell me why they weren't in class. Wow.

So, I guess the sense of entitlement that has been present in various ways in all the schools I've taught at previously is really not an issue here. Especially after last year, where I had so many ridiculous whinings and petty complaints that it became one of the most tedious parts of my job, this is a breath of fresh air. (See, for example, this and this...)

A particular joy about this job is that I get to teach classes entirely in my field (and some in Medieval/Renaissance). That's a blessing - no comp! The one difference for me with teaching is that I'm very aware of the fact that these classes "count" now - i.e., my ride on the tenure track has begun and now the evals and word of mouth and enrollments, etc. count in a way that I'm very aware of. I don't know if I'm more worried about making my classes awesome or not, but it's just my face now. If I teach a good class and I don't wave a firearm around in class, I know that will be enough on the teaching front. I don't have to be the most popular teacher, but I've been pretty popular in the past and I need to shed the need to maintain that level of intensity I think. I have other fish to fry now!

2) Service:
This is fine so far. I'm new enough so that the meetings are more exciting than tedious; I'm on a job search committee, which is also exciting for me (ask me again in two months when I'm slogging through applications), and I'm on another fluffy committee that doesn't need to do much.

3) Research (the Big Kahuna):
I need to figure out how to balance teaching and research, that's for sure. I've heard about a lot of different strategies and I need to find one that works for me - I'm positive that it will involve me scheduling time each week. Once I get a grant application done and one more paper abstract out, I can finally turn back to the Article That Never Dies.


I guess when all is said and done, being a professor is pretty damn great for me. I've had friends who got jobs last year who have said, "Oh MW, it's not all it's cracked up to be, pressure, meetings, teaching, etc...." But I never expected that it wouldn't be all those things. Maybe it's because I had a few years without a job that having one puts things into perspective. I have a job; it's mine until I hear otherwise.

I'm reminded of a friend who told me that when you see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, it's a big disappointment because it's actually pretty small and there are crowds, etc. But when I was standing in front of it this summer, all I could think is: "I'm looking at the actual Mona Lisa."

Wow. That's pretty damn great.


heu mihi said...

I'm so glad that things are going well! Good students, courses in your field, and tolerable service--excellent stuff. Of course, figuring out how to get the research in there is an issue, but it makes sense that you wouldn't be focusing on it for your first couple of weeks. Soon you'll feel settled in and used to the job enough to start working on your stuff again, I imagine.

And speaking of research: I still owe you comments on that short thing you sent me, what, two months ago? My god. I haven't forgotten, I swear! Maybe I'll even send it back this week!

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

Yay, that sounds wonderful! A tangential comment to your Mona Lisa reference... I'd always heard about the letdown too, but I saw her for the first time this summer and was absolutely stunned. (Dang, did we miss a potential blogger meetup in the Louvre??)

Sisyphus said...

You have such a wonderful attitude! Seriously, sometimes I think attitude can transform a middling situation (either direction).

I forget; were you a VAP, an adjunct, a postdoc... what were you doing before this? How long have you been done? (not that comparing your trajectory to mine and friends would mean anything, but, still ... I can't help being in job-market mode.)

squadratomagico said...

Sounds like you have some terrific students -- congratulations on such a respectful bunch!

My advice on research is to make suer you apply for as much time off as possible. I never learned to balance teaching and research at the same time; I just make sure I have dedicated time off.

medieval woman said...

Heu, which short thingy?

Sis, answered at Chez Bloggez You!

Sq, sadly, we don't have pre-tenure leave here, only post-tenure. I will, however, apply for some grants to see if I can buy a semester off!

Belle said...

I love your observations on your non-trad students. The ones I've encountered have always lacked that entitlement mentalite, and thus were generally a joy. Oddly enough, I encountered more of them in community college classes than in any 4 year institution. Miss those students.

When you find that balance between teaching and research, share!

What Now? said...

I'm delighted to hear that things are off to such a great start! Hurrah!