Disposable Thoughts

I was afraid this would happen. It's term, which means that I have barely time to eat most days, never mind check Facebook, never mind keep up with my blog in the way that I would like. I'm trying not to feel angry about this, but I am afraid that I do. This is not (quite) the life that I signed up for. At least, back in the days when I was making decisions about what to do with my life, I didn't think it was.

You know the fantasies that you have when you are in college or graduate school. Don't the professors just seem to float through their days thinking great thoughts, occasionally showing up to teach a class or two, but otherwise mysteriously engaged in the life of the mind, lost in their labs or libraries doing quote-unquote "their own work"? Ha. Double ha. I do remember that one of my teachers as an undergraduate warned me about committee meetings and how they eat up time, but as far as I can recall, nobody said anything about how relentless the schedule of term becomes once you are living it not, as a student, for a set number of courses and years, but day after day, term after term for the rest of your working life. Sure, they complained about grading and about having articles and papers to write, but still it seemed that they must have time somehow to think about things for longer than a day or two. It takes years, after all, to write a book and most of them seemed to have the time to do that.

I wish I knew how. Yes, I've just had a whole year off to do "my own work," but paradoxically enough, doing "my own work" is not (exactly) what I get paid for. I get paid (not to put too fine a point on it) to teach, which means to prepare for discussions and show up in class and grade papers. This, theoretically, should count as work, but weirdly enough, by the logic of academic promotions, it doesn't. Not that I'm complaining, really. There are places where I might have to teach even more and which, in return, would expect rather less of me in terms of research. The problem is, even teaching as (comparatively) little as I do, there still doesn't seem to be time practically speaking to do anything else--and (here's my real complaint) I don't know why. Chafe, chafe. I've been teaching now for the better part of fifteen years, take three for being on leave. Surely by now it should not take me all day to prepare for a class that I've taught sometimes two or three times before. And yet, it does. Which means precious little time and (more to the point) energy for doing anything else, including writing my blog, never mind working on my (ha!) book.

I shouldn't be surprised. I have, after all, been doing this for some time. But, I now realize, I always did so with the expectation that, yes, one day it would get easier. Sure, as an assistant professor I might spend every waking hour of the day reading all the things in my field that I barely knew existed as a graduate student (note to my graduate students reading for orals: it's only the beginning!), but, I reassured myself, this was just what assistant professors do. My senior colleagues didn't seem to spend so much time reading (not, at least, based on the way they talked about their days), so surely this was simply temporary, something that I would eventually grow--or read myself--out of. And, to be fair, I have: I have now read so much that sometimes reading more is actually counterproductive. There is, after all, only so much you can say about a given topic in an hour and twenty minute class. But somehow this still does not mean that my days have magically opened up such that I really only need to show up in class and can spend the rest of my time working on the things that count as "my own work."

There is an irony in this post of which I am sure you are all too aware: I do, somehow, seem to have the time right now to be whinging about how there is no time. But as soon as I finish this post, it's back to preparing for class, inhaling as much as I can about whatever it is I have assigned my students to read for tomorrow, just so we can talk about it for a day. This cannot be the best way for them to learn, can it? And yet, it is the system we have.


  1. Same here. Taking your class seemed an excellent idea back then before the term started, but now I simply don't have time to attend it, leave alone do the reading. 8:30, class; 9:30, take a breath, wake up, talk to a student, have some breakfast; 10:30, class; 11:30, talk to another couple of students; right now I am typing this comment, while a student that sits a midterm in my office occupies my table, so I cannot grade. Then, 1:30, another student to explain things to; then, grade another 30 midterms. And I'm supposed to write up the result we got with Timothy when he was here (he left a week ago! and I haven't started yet) until the end of November. I didn't realize the sheer number of students (I have 64 in total) matters so much. I probably shouldn't allow them to reach me outside my office hours...

  2. Also, did you notice C. grading papers yesterday at the club? We are all in the same hamster wheel.

  3. "I probably shouldn't allow them to reach me outside my office hours..."

    I am very strict about meeting with students during my office hours. I even have an Open/Closed sign on the inside of my door that says "Open" only during my office hours. Otherwise, I am "Closed" and they are very welcome to sign up for an appointment during my regular conference time. It's the only way to keep things manageable!

    Back to the hamster wheel!


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