Friday, September 7, 2007

Adjusting to the Professorial Life: A Call for Posts, Of Sorts

Tonight I was thinking about how I'm settling into this new full-time teaching thing (we've just finished up Week 3). It's been a real series of highs and lows--a pretty regular cycle of them, in fact. One day things are great, and I love love love teaching; the next, it just, well, isn't, and I'm not sure that I do. At those points I question how I'm ever going to get used to this lifestyle, and how on earth people manage to prep a huge batch of courses, accomplish any research on their own, and still eat lunch. (As it happens, my schedule is such that I do effectively miss lunch at least three days a week. That might have to change, some day.)

And then I thought: Hey! Remember when you were in the midst of job-market agony last spring? Remember how helpful it was to read about other people's experiences, and to know that you weren't the only one to ever go through this stuff?

So it occurred to me that maybe I could get some similar help now.

Thus, I ask you, blogfriends: What do you remember about your first weeks, months, semester, or year as a full-timer? How did you feel about your courses, students, self? What kind of advice would you give to someone just starting out in her first job? Or did everyone else launch into their teaching careers brimming with confidence and a series of fabulously successful lecture notes?

I actually had very little teaching experience coming into this job (four semesters as a TA and one semester adjuncting a single course), so it's entirely possible that I have more to adjust to than most people in my position. Nonetheless, I would thoroughly enjoy--and, I expect, be greatly heartened by--your own stories. So, if you're inspired, please share! (Either in the comments or on your own blogs, if you prefer.)


Marcelle Proust said...

Constant reading, prepping, reading, writing, reading, prepping. I had a slightly reduced load (the dept. let newbies down gently), but I'd just come off a full year of fellowship in which I finished my diss, and I knew everything about my diss topic and nothing like enough about the topics I was teaching, even though I had studied them. It's just so different to take a course and to teach one. At one point in grad school I realized that I was going to be teaching one day (see, I really hadn't got my mind around that when I started; I just wanted to be learning), and started writing down every word anyone said. Those notes saved my ass. They gave me lecture ideas and discussion question ideas. But I still was reading all the time to prep my classes. I set aside an hour every morning to read/write for publication. I also spent hours fighting on the phone with my long-distance SO and then weeping about the fights. Eventually it dawned on me that it wasn't me, but SO, and that freed up some time.

heu mihi said...

Thanks, Marcelle! That writing-everything-down idea is a good one--wish I'd thought of that. Of course, almost none of the texts I'm teaching ever came up when I TA'd or took classes; nonetheless, one of the things I'm having a hard time with is remembering how I learned about literature in the first place. I honestly can't remember much of what my professors actually *did* in class--there was a lot of talking, both on their parts and the students', but the details are pretty hazy. Now I feel as though I just hit on one way of doing things the first couple of times I lectured, and that's the way my classes are taught now. (I'm sure there's more variation in there than I realize; at least, I'm trying to mix things up now and again!)

I like the idea of setting aside an hour a day for research and writing, too. Maybe I'll try that out in the coming weeks. It'll take some serious determination not to use that time to revise job market materials, though: I must be strong.

squadratomagico said...

I was told, point blank, that I should not expect to get any research done during my first year of teaching -- and I didn't. In fact, I didn't really do much research for the first two years, but I did get my classes together and write lots of lectures. After that, I had the basic prep down for a full stable of courses, and in subsequent years was able simply to tweak my syllabi or develop new classes one by one.

I started out horribly nervous about lecturing and my student survey responses tanked. I got better with time and now am quite popular, but there was a definite learning curve. I learned to repeat my main points often; to make jokes; to speak much more slowly; to foreshadow later parts of the lecture and the course; and I learned what I could assume about my students' vocabularies and level of prior knowledge. The last one, especially, is important to figure out.

During the summers I did a little research, but on a topic different from my diss/first book. I'm really glad I did this: it gave me a fresher view on the book when I returned to it (and I ended up changing it substantially as a result); and it also gave me a basis for what is now becoming my second book.

It wasn't until my third year that I got back into the main tenure research. I tried to do a little reading while teaching and doing service, but found it difficult. I still have a hard time writing without it becoming all-consuming. Luckily, I've managed a fair amount of time off, and I recommend the pursuit of grants: apply, apply, apply.

Finally, learn the departmental culture at your place of employment. Is face time in the office important? Is there an informal dress code? What are the power relations there between junior and senior faculty? Are the certain blocks or alignments of faculty that matter? I'm not particularly smart about these issues myself, and it took me a long time to learn the lay of the land... but try to suss it out if you can.

heu mihi said...

Thanks, squadrato--that's a lot of good information. And it's reassuring to know that the teaching does get smoother down the line; that's something I've been telling myself when I can't imagine living like this forever, and I appreciate the confirmation. (Seriously. It's like I finish one class and then I just have to get another ready. Or maybe two more. And because I'm still a little nervous, I tend to "rehearse" each one before I actually do it--that's a habit I hope to break at some point.)

Since this is a one-year, I do feel that some amount of research is necessary (given that I'm back on the market, and might be next year, too); on the other hand, I have no service obligations and don't need to worry as much about integrating into my department. I'm also lucky in that my department is extremely friendly and small, making such integration pretty easy.

Sisyphus said...

I am not a prof (IANAP? maybe I could start using it like YMMV) but I think there is a huge learning curve and then it levels off (PS I think it's a good idea to throw lots of assignments at the students early on so you can see how they do and they can see how you grade ---- although I know that many people would tell you to _not_ do the kind of thing that would take up your time with lots of grading).

And some friends who are now 2nd year tts said that the second year is much easier --- writing a lecture gets quicker and quicker as you learn how to do it, and you get better at steering discussions and getting students to talk.

And job searching will go in fits and starts, right? You shoot out a pile of applications and then get some breather. Then you've got some room before interviews/flyouts, and then there's the spring semester to chug through some researchy-type-things.

I hope.

Belle said...

Great comments from all. I taught 4/4 while doing my diss & the job search, so the teaching was the easiest part of the puzzle. What's been really hard for me is doing my stuff - the research and writing. So my advice is:

1) rely on the benign ignorance of your beginning students
2) schedule research/writing time and respect that schedule. Just block out that time and keep to it.
3) write everything - meetings, ideas, networking stuff - down. Keep those notes. When you're back on the job-hunt, you'll have real experiences you can draw on once you've reviewed those notes.