The prose that is hard to write is not the prose in which you formulate your research ideas. It is the prose that justifies the purchase of books to entities which believe universities can conduct research without them. And the teaching that is hard is not the teaching in which you actually draw upon your research expertise, but the teaching of skills you do not remember learning yourself.
Teaching foreign languages is hard. I have 95 foreign language students right now, in addition to 20 upper division students in a couple of subjects and about five graduate committees. The foreign language classes are by far the hardest. You with 50% research assignments, who bemoan the difficulties that beset your research and writing should be out buying gift cards for your instructors and T.A.’s right now. I really mean this and I will repeat it below. Remember that your T.A.’s are also conducting research and I am, too; please do not try to tell me I only say it is not so hard because I do not know what it is, because I do.
If you give a 3 page test, and it takes 20 minutes to grade each test, and you have 95 students, then grading this test takes 31 hours and 40 minutes. That would be just one of the things you would do during a work week. Check it out. If you are, in addition, competing for purposes of tenure and promotion for good student evaluations with the faculty wives who are the instructors and who are able to devote 100% of their time to these courses, you will be fighting a losing battle and you will know it; this will be stressful.
Teaching foreign languages is hard for me in particular because going as slow as you have to is excruciating. I don’t relate to the difficulty of it for students, although I know it is real. I am a lot better teaching skills building courses in skills I actually had to build with some effort. I could do a better job in freshman and sophomore mathematics, English, and history because I have a better understanding personally of where the difficulties in these subjects lie. I am also not a really social person and getting language out of each individual is like doing intensive therapy on them. It is exhausting.
Most specifically, I dislike teaching foreign languages because:
♦ We have to put students in groups to work together. I think this is a waste of class time except as a special event.
♦ One must create all these transparencies and other visual materials with drawings and photographs of objects, and fight to get projectors to project them on. I dislike doing this, and I disliked having to look at cartoon pictures in the foreign language courses I took.
♦ Matching and multiple choice exercises. Matching especially I found very disorienting as a student and I hate to impose it upon people, but it is in fashion.
♦ “Prereading” exercises. I know we must make students do these nowadays, but I am bored by them and if I were a student, they are exactly the kind of work I would skip to save time. It is good to read introductions to texts you are about to dissect but asking students to talk about how they feel in nature as preparation for reading a poem about nature is far too touchy-feely for me; it also seems like busy work.
♦ Almost every aural comprehension exercise known to mankind. They are far too complicated and stressful. YouTube has endless numbers of music videos and cartoons, subtitled newscasts, soccer, anything you want and it is better.
♦ Grammar lectures followed by “application” of the concepts. I thought that had gone out of style before I was born, but it has risen from its grave and is here, now, biting our neck.
There is more, but that is enough for now. I like taking language classes where you ease into things by easy salutations and conversation about yesterday, and then settle into looking at a videoclip or a text. Then you can start looking at a grammatical issue from the text, and be taught it inductively. Then you start using that construction yourself and among yourselves, and then class is over. The next day conversation starts using that construction. You just go along and along, without so many interruptions, technical problems, impediments, and other elbows in the ribs.
My larger point, though, is the one I made at the beginning: teaching lower division, developmental and skills building courses is really hard. Much harder than research and writing. If lower division teaching is not something you do, I repeat: go out this weekend and buy some gift cards for your instructors and T.A.s who are probably eating the last of this month’s groceries right now, holding their breath until next Friday.