What Counts as Work?

I am writing somewhat in response to a “Brainstorm” from the CHE. The author asks if writing is work. She discusses it in terms of her job in higher education and her friend and family’s limited understanding of what counts as her job.

While she begins her post saying that she is off for Labor Day, I will begin mine by saying that school is in session today. My students have homework due; we will read and write in class; I will have grading. I also have a paper that is due and I will have finished that tonight and sent it off. I am having a graduate student over for brunch; I am her official mentor. I am meeting another professor to talk about the Honors Society we are the co-sponsors for in the afternoon for an hour or so. So I have plenty of work today.

But what counts as work?

I think this issue can be approached two different ways. These are not, however, the ways that author Gina Barreca looked at the question. She looks at her work from the perspective of friends and family. Neither my friends nor my family are my bosses. They are not my colleagues. None of them work in higher education. They do not understand my work and, therefore, their impressions are not the arbiters of my experience.

If I were going to decide what counts as work, I would look first at how my university defines work.

We are primarily a teaching institution. The biggest part of my work is teaching, according to my uni. And they do not limit my teaching to the time in the classroom. They also ask me for seven hours a week in my office, student access via email and texting, and time spent mentoring my students on campus and in my home. So, if I have a pancake dinner for my class, then I am “teaching.”

While my university focuses on teaching, they also want to advance the uni to “global leadership” and have a desire to become a premier uni in our area of interests. This means, among other things, that they value research (and technology, which I will address soon). So when I am working on a chapter for a book or an article for a journal or a review or a creative writing piece or a conference presentation, my college also considers that I am working. This summer, before they began paying me, before I officially went to work for them, I wrote a chapter and two reviews. I have another chapter and another two reviews in the works–that is, I am writing them and hope/expect them to be published. All of that is part of my job at the university.

I have one state, two regional, and two national conferences accepted. The university also considers these part of my work. Unfortunately, the budget is smaller than in years past and I may have to make a choice between the big English and the big rhetoric conference. Certainly I have to apply for monies to attend all but the closest and $300 of another. So these are part of my work, a part that the university also often subsidizes. It’s not work I do in the classroom and it may or may not ever be published, though one hopes it will be. Regardless, it is my work.

Additional parts of my work include service. I am required to do service both internally in the university and externally in the wider community. I am not sure that picking trash up off a busy thoroughfare counts as service to the community, since it is not organized, but I hope it will. It is my service to the community this semester. And, if it does, it, too, is part of my work. Certainly the FIVE committees to which I have been assigned, which require time and thought outside of meetings, are part of my work.

Today is Labor Day. While I am making brunch for my mentee, and eating it, I will be working. While I am preparing for class and teaching, I will be working. While I am grading papers and recording grades in the new course management system, I will be working. While I am putting together the chair for my office, I will be working. While I am in my office for three hours of office hours, I will be working. As I am finishing up the chapter and the additional website information, I will be working. When I post on TCE, I will be working… About the only thing I will do today that is not work is eat supper and sit with my dog. I’ve even managed to figure out how to turn walking my dog into part of my job description! (Service. We pick up trash off the road as we walk.)

I spent over six hours yesterday working. My two hours of expected labor on Friday were expanded to six. Thursday I worked about twelve hours. I work well over forty hours a week. I still don’t get everything I need to get done finished.

Someone spoke to me about “time management” but it is a person whose job was from 9 to 5 and rarely, if ever, had work that was required to be done outside that time frame. Of course he would not understand that most of my life right now is centered on working. I don’t work forty hours a week. I work about eighty. And it is work I am grateful for and enjoy.

What counts as work? Anything that contributes to the strength of my university is work. And my uni recognizes that. It is something to be grateful for.

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