HOF: Everyone Helps

We all bring such different things to the departmental table. A wildly popular but not-too-rigorous teacher is essential thing for any department, because her courses entice more majors and satisfy the bean counters. A rigorous and stern teacher who students fear and only take because they have to is another valuable department member, performing an essential weeding function and providing cover for the rest of us. The professor does an adequate-but-perfunctory job in the classroom but cranks out eh grants and publications is a godsend at accreditation time and in raising the profile of your department. The colleague who is not a great teacher and has not published in years but does yeoman’s work in advising students how to graduate on time is solid gold.

These are very different things, and a strong department needs them all. And if you are really, really good at one or two things and proud of that, it is way too easy to disparage and diminish the essential roles played by your colleagues–particularly if it is someone you dislike. You mentally count the number of times you see students waiting outside the door of your colleague who often misses his office hours, forgetting that he also took a van full of undergrads to the national conference the week before.

It is also true that there are colleagues who bring nothing to the departmental table. But in 15 years at two different institutions, I have never worked with such a person. I have had colleagues I disliked, who let me down or blocked me on important projects or otherwise offended. But objectively speaking, they all contributed to the department. There are very very few genuinely negligent colleagues.

From larryc

HOF: Academia Sucks

asian teacher at white board martinAre you waiting for someone to seek you out and praise you? That’s not going to happen.

Instead, I get a lot of motivation from doing the fascinating things and the interactions that come with the doing.

Publishing sucks. I hate writing papers. I hate editing them. I hate doing the revisions for them.

Reviewing papers sucks. I hate all authors everywhere and filling out editorial forms.

Prepping for classes sucks. I hate having to think “how will people manage to screw up this very simple task?”. I hate doing the same stinking problem with a bazillion steps so that anyone who tries can follow it.

Grading sucks. How could anyone mess up copying a fact from the book? How could anyone not be able to do arithmetic? How could anyone not being able to write a coherent sentence in legible penmanship?

Committee work sucks. I hate my colleagues who cannot attend a meeting on time, didn’t prepare for the meeting, and can’t make a decision even with a gun to their heads.

Research sucks. As soon as I get good at something, I have to learn something else. My hard drive crashed and it’s three days to put the system back into working order. I’ve lost 10 programs that I wrote in the past month and all the data as well. And, as soon as I really know what’s going on, then I have to write a damn paper or make a presentation.

Presentations suck. I can see half the room is reading the program to see if something better is coming up and I spent roughly five hours to make a presentation that is over in 10 minutes.

Yet…..

student_raising hand computerWhen students get a topic, then their pleasure is my pleasure. All is forgotten about prep and grading and all that remains is that shining joy that someone learned something and I was there to help it happen.

When my research is humming along, I looooooooooove the feel of being in the groove and will snap at anyone who mentions the weeks, months, or years of drudgery to get to that point.

Nothing is better than the spirited give and take with colleagues about our common interests. I’ve gotten a lot of trophies, medals, certificates, and A’s, but I would trade all of them for an afternoon of spirited conversation in one of my areas of interest where ideas are shared and everyone goes away with new things to try.

I do have mentors for particular aspects of my career, but they are often people who push me hard to try new things and revise whatever one more time before submitting instead of praising me.

I am seldom praised by anyone for the things of which I am most proud. Instead, I often infer praise from people inviting me to be a collaborator, be a reviewer, and be a speaker, or asking my advice in some area of my expertise. Clearly, they appreciate my efforts, but few ever come right out and say, “You’re doing a great job, Polly. Keep it up!” You, too, will have to learn to take pleasure and motivation in the doing instead of seeking praise, or you will be very unhappy waiting for praise that will be too little with huge gaps between instances.

from polly_mer

Teaching, Learning, and Cost: Universities Today

Kevin Carey writes in his last Think Tank column for The Chronicle of Higher Ed:

The standard research-university model—autonomous professors rewarded for scholarship, untrained in teaching, and unaccountable for student learning—dominates every aspect of modern higher education, including the vast majority of colleges, which have no mandate for research.

professors waiting in line eutress public domain WCIt may dominate, but it is not the only model. While my university requires scholarship (research), teaching is of primary importance.

Measuring teaching ability is a problem when you are trying to support teaching, however. Student evaluations may not be the most efficacious way of determining teaching ability, but it is a common one. What else could we use or how else might we determine whether someone is or is not an effective teacher?

Colleges can’t forever continue raising prices, shortchanging their teaching responsibilities, and clinging to pre-technological models of organization.

iStock professor lecture small group white boardWhile I am unsure what pre-tech models he means (perhaps face-to-face classrooms?), I think that the rising prices and the teaching responsibilities are two different factors that will have distinct and separate impacts. The average consumer of higher education is aware of cost, but unaware of the differences that good teachers can make. Therefore the cost will hit the higher education model first and hardest, with the strong teaching universities perhaps being able to recover faster.

Tenure and Promotion Portfolio

wordpress-iconThis week my pre-tenure review of my tenure and promotion portfolio is due. This is the second year the university has required them as WordPress blogs.

I am grateful that I have used WordPress blogs for a while. Despite that, I still learned things working on the t&p portfolio. Some of those things I learned made a big difference in the presentation aspect of the portfolio.

While I was working on it, I decided to incorporate lots of images. After the reading in the research of new media, including quite a lot on visual rhetoric, that seemed to be a good idea.

There is never a perfect t&p portfolio, but you do the best you can and hope that the comments help you improve the work sufficiently to achieve your goal. I think it looks good.

Soliciting feedback is a little tricky, as it is behind a firewall. However, I managed to show it to a couple of people and got some useful and relevant feedback. I’ve made the changes suggested and feel that it is about as done as it will get.

ACU Hunter Welcome Center down the columnsI’m grateful that my university has pre-tenure review in order to give feedback, because I am quite aware that not all schools do. My SIL’s university doesn’t. She was just told, “As soon as you get those two articles published, submit your t&p.” Yikes!

Irrelevant?

Are English departments becoming irrelevant?

A colleague sent a link to Pulling the Plug on English Departments in The Daily Beast.

“Within a few decades, contemporary literature departments will be largely extinct,” Pulizzi submits before predicting that “communications, composition, and media studies will take English’s place.”

Rather than expressing anxiety, or at least, worry over the impending destruction of one of the only mechanisms for introducing young Americans to a pillar of art, human history, and the Western tradition, Pulizzi credulously asks, “Why should college students read narrative prose when they get their fill of stories from television, cinema, and interactive video games?”

…the future of a text-free college education does not seem outlandish.

The author is opposed to this, as I am, though our freshman offerings (and those at the rest of the state) has dropped “literature” as traditional literary readings.

Studies and experiments also demonstrate that reading comprehension and retention rates are superior among people who read from a printed page as opposed to those who get their information from an electronic screen.

I wonder if these studies (which I have not read and which are not linked) are referencing simple electronic screens or if they are talking about the typical chunked and short internet readings available. Is the author saying that because I read my novels on my iPad via the Kindle application that I no longer have long-term focus or that I’m letting my reading muscles get flabby? If he’s saying that–and he isn’t clearly NOT saying that–then I want some citations.

While far from a cure all for social ills, literature, more than any other medium, increases and enhances the ability to empathize.

Yes, yes, it does. It’s why “Teaching the Taboo: Reading Mental Health and Mental Illness in American Literature” was important enough to me that I wrote and published and article on it.

I particularly appreciated my colleague’s call to arms, in response to the article and the physical re-location of our offices:

“[I]t might be good to contemplate what we do and come roaring out of the box, no apologies made for trying to challenge our students to rise above the general intellectual sloth that surrounds us.”

Retirement

My favorite undergraduate professor retired this year and sent me a note about the experience.

Imagine a slightly dry wit and a slow voice:

My special pleasure at the moment is getting emails from the provost about events I won’t have to attend and duties I won’t have to fulfill. That part’s delicious.

I laugh every time I read it.

Working on Research: Practical Idea

When you’ve been working on a topic for a while, over time and across multiple stops and starts for teaching and service and life in general, you can lose the focus of your topic. If you’re like me, you may find that you have already done the work you have started to re-do. Sometimes you will find them too late; you have finished the project and sent it off and then discover that you had more/better/more complete information that did not end up in the submitted project.

Now, when I am working on a project, I go through relevant and related folders and look at what is in them so that I’m not repeating work that I have already done or missing work that I should have repeated.

It’s a habit I hope to cultivate and would like to encourage in others.

Last week I sent off a project that I think is fairly well done and I hope that it will be accepted or at least receive an R&R in a few months time. And this morning, working on my next project, I discovered information that I intended to put in that particular project. So now I have a new file, in the folder where the final copy sent out as a submission rests, that reads “Use on XX if R&Red.”

25% Employment Rate

If you knew that someone was going into a field where they could only get employment at a 25% rate, would you encourage them? Apparently that is the situation with students in English looking to go into academia. Guide to Grad School Survival says there is a one in four chance of becoming a professor.

People don’t go into this field for love of money, but surely the chances of being hired should make a difference.

Yet I continue to teach graduate students and to encourage them to follow their goals. Why?

One in four will make it. That is true.

And the other three may find something just as fulfilling in related areas, perhaps staff in academics or as faculty-staff liaisons. If they don’t, being bright and capable people, I expect they will find jobs somewhere else that are fulfilling.

Finally, for some of them, the experience of the pursuit of the degrees will be worth it, even if they never go into the field. While I was frankly overwhelmed at times in my PhD program, I was doing what I wanted to do and thrilled to be doing it. If I had never gone back into full-time instruction, I still would have felt blessed to have done it.

That’s why, while I make clear that the path is not easy and many won’t make it into academia, I still cheer my graduate students on.