Monday, April 2, 2012

Day of Higher Ed blogging, plus some random musings about the nature of work

Ah, what the hey. I don't know that this project will actually do any good, but it's kind of nice to have an excuse to post about something completely mundane.

So: a day in the life of an assistant professor at a small state university with a 4/4 teaching load.

8:00-8:30: Arrive on campus, do some class prep (photocopies, setting up tech equipment, cuing up film clips and web pages).

8:30-9:00: Down time, pretty much.

9:00-9:50: Basic (i.e., remedial) Comp. This is a peer workshop day, so technically I'm not "on," just responsible for keeping everyone on task. Two students show up on time. Two more eventually drift in; one of them has left her draft in her car, and spends more than half of the class period "going to get it." The other one is pregnant, and decides that this would be a good time to organize her several dozen ultrasound photos, and then drops them on the floor. Of the other two students, one of them breezes through everything and the other takes ten minutes to write a sentence. Eventually, with much coaxing and cajoling, everyone both gives and gets some workshop comments. I decide to pretend this is a success.

9:50-10:00: Shakespeare students start to drift in. I return some papers and show them the April Fool's Day post at the British library blog, just for the heck of it.

10:00-10:50: Shakespeare class. St. Crispin's Day speech, yay! Also, my awesome honors student comes by to talk to the class about her project, which results in all sorts of interesting questions about things like the Great Vowel Shift, so I pull up some Chaucer on the computer and do my best Wife of Bath imitation.

10:50-12:00: Talk to a couple of Shakespeare students about topics for the final paper, return tech equipment to office, hold office hours. One student comes to talk about final papers in more detail; otherwise, some of this is down time.

12:00-1:20: Go home, have lunch, do laundry.

1:20-2:10: Grade the four papers I didn't get to over the weekend. (This feels like it takes longer than it actually does.)

2:25-3:25: After a short break, prep for tomorrow's classes: read and make notes on some seventeenth-century poems, and pick out a sample draft from a previous semester to look at in Advanced Comp.

3:25-5:50: Down time, including a very early dinner.

5:50-7:00: Join a colleague who is coaching some students who are giving presentations at an upcoming conference. (They are both student-teaching this semester, so this has to be done after hours.) The students run through their talks, which are shaping up very well indeed, and we give them feedback and talk a little about how conferences work.

7:15-8:20: Attend guest lecture from visiting art history professor.

So: about 7 1/2 hours of actual work, maybe more like 7 if you don't count the parts of office hours when I'm not actually talking to students or dealing with work-related e-mail. And the last 2 1/2 hours were technically optional. Which might, theoretically, seem to support the Hypothesis of Professorial Laziness. But honestly? I doubt most people with nine-to-five office jobs really do more than seven hours of work a day, once you knock out breaks and faffing around on the Internet, and they usually don't have to grade over the weekends.

Also, doing this has made me think about the fluid nature of academic labor; it's not always easy to tell what counts as work. (That lecture, for example. It was fun. I enjoyed learning random things about medieval and early modern iconography. It's vaguely possible I might use some of that knowledge in my courses, somehow, but I can teach them just fine without it. And I was under no particular obligation to go, except that it's generally expected on my campus that you show up to some of these things, some of the time. Is it still "work"? Beats me.) Are office hours "work" because you have to be there, even if you spend the whole time reading blogs? Are course prep and grading somehow less work-like because they're invisible (like a lot of profs, I do them at home) and can be done, within reason, whenever you feel like it? Is Basic Comp more "work" than the Shakespeare class because every goddamn second of it feels like work, even though the latter actually took up more of my time today?

Not that I think any of these questions has anything to do with the reason why the Lazy Professor has suddenly become a focus of public disapproval; I generally concur with the analysis at Easily Distracted. To which I would like to add that a former colleague, when challenged to explain what our university did that the Big Box Mega-University Down The Road doesn't do, replied with a simple and brilliant line: "We hand-craft our students." (And this is why we come together in an empty classroom while normal people are having dinner, and coach our students through their very first conference presentations, even though we don't have to. This is who we are.)

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