A new semester

Like many people, I feel the sense of promise and optimism that each new semester brings. I love the beginning of the fall semester because the new year is starting, the weather is lovely, there’s a sense of peace as things pick up again. I met my first class last Saturday so I feel like I’m already well into the first week of the semester. On Monday I met with a doctoral student who was questioning her dissertation research, but mostly questioning whether or not she wanted to face the realities that the data might reveal. Today, I’m gearing up for my second class. I’m teaching two sections of the same course and find the ability to focus so fully on the course content is really invigorating. The classes are formatted completely differently (one is a hybrid class: on-line and face to face, while the other is entirely face to face). Because the content is the same, though, I find that I get better with each class session. This is also the class I taught in China over the summer — again, same content, very different format. But I have a sense of what works in the class and how to manage the session to meet the learning goals. There’s something quite gratifying about teaching a course I’ve taught before. Last Fall was the first time I taught the course and didn’t feel very confident on many days. That experience combined with student feedback after the class and the opportunity to teach the class again in the summer have given me a solid foundation for this semester. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this confident going in to a new semester. That’s not to say I won’t make mistakes or find ways to improve on what I’m doing; rather, what I feel is that I’m building on my past teaching experiences as I approach this semester. I really like teaching this course, too. It’s a pivotal class where students work on developing their research skills. It helps them hone their skills and begin to identify areas they want to investigate further. It’s a time for curiosity. It also provides a nice baseline for students who can later look back and say, “Wow, I started there and now I’m here.”  What could more satisfying?

Write to Remember

It’s really true that if you don’t write it down, you’re likely to forget. That’s true whether it’s a “to do” list or thoughts about things we do. While it’s also true that a blog may be a bit self-indulgent, I find that a blog provides a space to think aloud (albeit with an audience). As faculty we can often feel isolated, while writing publicly about the experience helps reduce that isolation. Reading other blogs helps me get a sense of how to better write my own blog — and I’ve learned a lot of great information in the process.

I’m getting ready to begin my sixth academic year as a faculty member … yes, my sixth year. It’s still difficult for me to believe that I (1) am a full-time faculty member and (2) am having such a GREAT time. For the first four years at my university, I was on a year-to-year contract (AKA, a “clinical” faculty member). Last year, my Dean successfully negotiated my appointment to a tenure track position. I was telling my husband yesterday that since shifting to a tenure track, I sleep a lot less. I worry constantly about all aspects of my work, but most especially about publications. Do I have enough? Will the ones under review be accepted? What new projects might be on the horizon? How can I get everything done?

Granted, I worried about getting everything done when I was on an annual contract, but I feel much more pressure now. The stakes are definitely higher. I read a blog from an adjunct faculty member who thought that perhaps a clinical appointment was the way to go…but, I think this really depends on the university, its mission, and how we frame the role of faculty. If we expect faculty to also conduct research and contribute to scholarship, then, it seems, clinical appointments are not the way to go. If we believe faculty responsibilities should be limited to teaching, service, curriculum development, and governance, do clinical appointments encourage faculty to fully engage with the university? And shouldn’t all faculty have the security and academic freedom that comes with tenure? Pre-tenure, adjunct, and clincial faculty are often silenced and/or marginalized due to their employment status with their university. It seems we need to create systems that give all faculty a voice in governance, curriclum development, and departmental issues.

 

Getting Started

Like many projects, getting this blog going is just a matter of starting. Seems simple enough, but I must confess to mixed feelings (still) about a blog. I started a blog before (My Life as a Faculty Member) with good intentions of writing and documenting my new career as a faculty member. The writing has been harder than I had imagined. I still worry that I have nothing much to stay. And, to be honest, when it comes to writing about tenure, the stakes are higher. Perhaps if I think about my goals for the blog, that will help.

When I blogged about teaching in China this summer, I had several goals: document my experiences, reflect on my teaching, connect with folks back home, and develop a habit of blogging. This helped me dedicate myself to blogging even on those days when I was tired. It seems, then, that two things will help with this blog: setting goals and scheduling time to write. Goals: Document the road to tenure, reflect on my teaching, and share with others who are on this road. Scheduling time: I seem to write the best in the morning. I’d love to say, “I’ll write every day” but that’s not likely to be sustainable. So, how about 3 times a week? I’ll add a specific appointment to my calendar and get started. YAY.

And with that … I’ve found my first topic: Managing multiple projects and priorities. Oh, here’s another topic: Advisor as cheerleader (how to support students when they’ve hit a wall) … I can find inspiration in many arenas and, like the blog from China, I’ll risk the vulnerability that comes with writing about something so personal.