Friday, February 02, 2007

Time Whine

I have so many things I want to write about, so much swirling around in my head – mostly to do with teaching – and yet I haven’t been able to find the time. Time, time, time. Feels exceptionally pressed right now. Now that I am only in Uni City three days a week, and not four, things feel perilously compressed. And with me writing to a deadline on the weekends (which I’ve decided to stop doing, because it’s making me crazy and it’s unrealistic, even if I do have half the thing written), there has just been no time.

So why don’t I steal a few minutes of that precious time to write about how I bring some of this problem on myself?

I am always enthusiastic about my students. But because I have such a fantastic bunch of them, across my classes – and remember that the preponderance of this kind of student is why I so wanted to work at this institution in the first place – I have taken this enthusiasm to a kind of next level this year, at this uni. But there are drawbacks to that.

So right now, in my Theory class, the students have an annotated bibliography coming up, the first step in a research paper that is due in March. I have been having emails and conversations and meetings galore with students trying to choose and narrow topics to research. These alone have been overwhelming, as they make my head swirl with paper topics and with the task of explaining to so many of them why the topic they have chosen isn’t a theoretical one. And instead of limiting these, instead of trying to curb their spillage into my life and my time, I have been giving too much. So that students tell me they want to research Topic X, and I am, the next day, pulling some material out of my own files and photocopying it for them. Or half-remembering an article on Topic Y, telling a student I have an interesting reference for them and I will email it to them, and spending half an hour searching for it in periodical databases with keywords grasped from a short-circuiting memory. I shouldn’t be doing this, and it is this that is cutting into my time particularly sharply this week. But I bring it on myself. And they see that I will do this for them, and they start asking for it.

And then, what did I do yesterday morning? I met a student in my office at 9:30 – which involved getting up earlier and taking an earlier run than usual, after teaching until 9 the night before – so that I could help her look over her application for an internship. I offered the help, twit that I am. Now, I love this student, I’ve written her a glowing reference for this radio internship, and I think she would be absolutely perfect for the position, which is why I offered the help. But as soon as I'd arranged this, I wanted to kick myself - Thursdays are supposed to be the day in Uni City when the pressure is not on...

I also have lately indulged student requests to come and chat with me and “just ask you some questions” about “issues”, which have resulted in 1-2-hour conversations over tea. I’m very silly indeed. Except that I enjoy these chats.

The thing is that I completely forget, in the moment, about the context. Which is that I have all this other stuff going on and don’t have the time to run a search/edit letters/chat about. So I forget this, and am just caught up in the moment of interaction with the student. I just am. “Yay! A project!!” “What an awesome internship!” “Yeah, let’s chat – what fun!”

The thing is, I wish I didn’t have to be so protective of my time. I like students, especially the ones I have here. I actually learn a lot from them, too. I feel as if some students’ research is going to result in papers I really want to read, because it will teach me things. But I guess I’m bugged by how the university context – that ticking time bomb of a tenure clock – doesn’t see or reward this. It bugs me that I feel pressured to construct interactions with students as an incursion on my time.

I realize that this is just another restatement of the frustrating undervaluation of teaching and working with students – and it is not coming from someone who values teaching “more” than research, as I like them equally. But the thing is, at the beginning of my career, I’m so not burnt out from them yet – I can give my best to them right now. I wish I could indulge that, worry-free. Maybe I need to just do that. I have a colleague/friend who polices her time so vigilantly, guarding against interactions with students because of what they take from her. Her chief, and very intensely delivered, advice to me in negotiating this new job is about guarding my time. As much as I like her, I don’t want to be that person, not ever. I want to be able to see what students give me, also. That is as much a part of why I do this job as anything else.

Rambling, disorganized, self-indulgent thoughts, sorry.


To keep me on track: Posts coming soon, I hope, about how teaching theory makes me a better scholar, about student mental health issues and graduate school, and about why I’m back to thinking I’m moving to HELL and even considered turning the job down, this week. And my relationship with ex-GF.

Happy weekends, everyone.


Mimi said...

From the paradise of students: thanks for doing it.
Now, just make sure you regain the balance you once professed to me! I would be so sad to see you burned and cynical about all that.

Earnest English said...

Can't wait to see what you have to say about graduate student mental health issues!

Texter said...

You described me to a "tee." I tend to spend quite a bit of time "helping" students with research and "finding" an article from my own files. I've had to be talked down from that tree quite a few times by friends. I too love it: love the interaction with students, the camaraderie, the sense of purpose and getting something done. Unfort. for me, it does get in the way of my own research work. And I think I like it b/c I tend to pour a lot of passion/emotional energy into intellectual work so the two are entwined - intellectual work is pleasurable to me. It is not so for everyone in academe. Anyway, here's to finding balance and keeping the pleasure!

MaggieMay said...

Hilaire, even your self-described "rambling" posts are quite lovely and capture so much!!

Hilaire said...

Thanks, Maggie!

Texter, we sound so much alike. I find the same kind of entwinement. And it does cut into my research time, too - it is why I'm giving up on finishing this paper in the next two weeks, essentially...

Thanks, Mireille - you are right about balance. I did remind you of this at length, didn't I? Good grief - I need to walk the talk.

And Earnest, yes - I will get to it, I hope...soon...your encouragement means I will put it at the top of my list!