On Teaching and Teaching Advice

It does not go better than it does in some classes, some days, because I do not put enough into it, and when I say put enough into it, I do not necessarily mean time. I certainly do not mean I believe in using teaching as an excuse not to write.

I am conflicted about teaching, though, because I was always warned so much that academia wasn’t about teaching, which I knew, and so I thought that it must be even less about teaching than I realized. And I think a lot of the advice I received was sabotage.

And in real life, academia is about teaching, a lot, and I feel guilty that my experience does not fit with what I was told. Not that it should have. I feel guilty because I feel I have betrayed someone by perceiving what I perceive.

So, do you think most academics go into it primarily for teaching? I didn’t — I could have gone secondary or CC — I went into it for the whole thing, the entire intellectual enterprise, and I always assumed that research was first. One knew these things.

But I kept being told, don’t spend too much time teaching, we’re sure you are conspiring to spend too much time teaching, and I feel sort of bad about giving it the time it needs. Yet if I don’t, I don’t do well, and I don’t think I really spend too much time.

I warn you this, don’t that, I know you’ll this, but you must that. So many exhortations, so many assumptions of incompetence, and also so much silence in response to actual questions. And I think a lot of the “friendly” advice I received was really discouragement.

This is why I feel so often that there is no firm ground upon which to step — everything is a trap door. I am frozen in — childhood perhaps and I want to relax out of it, onto the land.


3 thoughts on “On Teaching and Teaching Advice

  1. It’s a lot easier to nod and smile while people are proffering advice but listen to nothing. Unless, of course, you’ve had an opportunity to find out that this particular person is really on your side.

  2. I think nowadays, academia is more and more about teaching. I think an advantage I had over you and Clarissa is that I didn’t go to a prestigious place for my PhD (sure, it had some well known professors, but it wouldn’t crack the top 20). We were constantly reminded that our ticket for a TT job was teaching.

    Myself, I went into academia because my parents are college professors (although not in the humanities), and because I can’t tolerate a 9-5 job. My BA is in one thing, my MA in another thing, and my PhD in Latin American Literature. I think the main reason I did a PhD was not love of research, but that the idea of teaching and dealing with anybody under the age of 18 freaks the hell out of me.

    While doing my PhD I discovered that I liked research and, even better, that I was a great teacher. So although I would like to be more productive, I don’t resent teaching for the time it takes me. And being the only professor invited to one of my student’s wedding was as fulfilling as getting an article accepted. Sometimes, I feel guilty saying this, because I feel I shouldn’t enjoy teaching so much.

  3. Ha! 18! I don’t want to deal with anyone under 21 and actually 25 is good! I did the MA and PhD, even the BA, for research … but found out teaching is good for me. I just don’t like required gen ed classes full of 18 year olds … and I get sort of disappointed too when graduate level classes can’t be taught at as high a level as the advanced courses in the undergraduate major. But really what I don’t like about teaching is, having so many students who mistake me for a parole officer perhaps, trying to get one over on me. I am not good with manipulation / abuse and it drains me and give me PTSD flashbacks. What I realized after becoming a professor was that you should not go into English, foreign languages or math because in non R1 schools professorial faculty teach the basic courses. I’m be willing to teach non elite freshmen something else, but not languages, freshman comp, or math. I’d have done a different PhD had I known.

    I’ve been a VAP at true R1s and there the schedule really isn’t 9-5, but in the places I’ve worked for real, it has been — between classes, meetings, other activities, the calendar fills up during the day. You can write in the gaps if not too distracted, and there are some gaps, but you are kind of booked up so it is much more similar to a 9-5 job than I had imagined. That was one of my culture shocks at the beginning but now I am really used to working in the office, on a schedule like that.

    What I realized at my first job, though, was that my PhD program had prepared me for something higher level, harder driving and faster paced than professordom — something more executive-like. I’d gone into academia because I was raised with the expectation I’d be a housewife and academia was what I could think of. Had I understood more about the real conditions at many academic jobs I would have thought twice.

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