On teaching, the upshot

Historiann says this and I am glad to hear not only I have this problem. My unhappiness inadequacy as a professor would be greatly mitigated by a lower teaching load.

Here is that journal on syllabi, and we should all publish in it, for many reasons including that it will get us research credit for teaching activities. I found out about it from the Spanish Professor, and I am happy about it.

I have been having a very interesting time talking to people in English about teaching intermediate undergraduate language and literature and I would like to use some of these ideas in Spanish.

I feel as though I should dedicate myself much more to teaching and this is very depressing. I feel so guilty about having done the Ph.D. and having been interested in research, I have no way to express it. I am so angry about all the dedication to lower level teaching one is expected to have.

At the same time I have always resented the strenuous advice about “cutting corners” on teaching. I am not very interested in most of the kind of teaching I have been assigned in life. If I do not think about it seriously and give myself time for it, I do not do well enough at it. Trying to save time, disturbing oneself at work with constant reminders that one only has a certain amount of time and must speed, is suicidal.

I have, however, made a major error this semester. I have two courses I have taught before a lot. If I were teaching them in the standard way, where I am at ease, my life would be easy and I would be able to think about other things. But I felt these courses were getting old, and I changed them both, and I made them too difficult. I was foolish; I should have cut corners on teaching. I am only torturing myself and the students, and I am neglecting my resarch program as I try to rescue this situation. This is what is meant by spending too much time on teaching.

I disagree heartily with this post and my comments on it. The introduction to literary analysis must become easier, not harder. It should not have theory added. There should be a standard textbook with a lot of vocabulary aid in it, and this book should not be supplemented in any way. Ideally the course will  be turned into a kind of story hour. For reading it could focus on the microrrelato because students do not have language skills to read anything longer, and they have never read anything literary in any language.
(That would mean I would have to learn about the microrrelato, though. I am so tired of inventing all of this creative teaching that has nothing to do with research.)

Nonetheless, I will work on teaching and I will start writing about it. Publishing about it is probably the only way to motivate me to do anything more with it. If my evaluation said I “had a magic wand” that “opened the world of words and makes students think they created it themselves” then I must have something worth saying.

I am not depressed but I am miserable. I was right that I should only be a professor if I could teach at a public R-1; right that I should only live in cities; right that I have talent for business; right that I should be in the social sciences even if these are déclassés; right about my more specific interests, and right that I should pursue them. I would not mind being in the humanities if I could work in them at a higher level, but the present situation is very difficult.

It is so hard to have to try every day to be someone I am not; to take a deep interest in things that do not attract me. It is so paradoxically self-destructive to have to undertake this repression to survive. It is so counterproductive to feel so guilty about having the interests I have and being the person I am.

On the other hand, every time I go into this incredible pain, it is really because I am not taking good enough care of myself. Yet the reason I do not is that it is so much work here, there are so few resources for it here, and also because there is no real reason to do it: I have renounced the things I wanted in life already, and the attempt to live well despite this throws the disappointment into higher relief, makes the pain sharper.

I commented madly on this post today and it was because I was trying to imagine what it would be like to be a professor who was treated like an adult, or not treated like a criminal. In the professor jobs I have had we are all guilty, we have done something wrong. We are concerned about being executed or about having to undergo some form of torture that will be terminally disabling.

I realized how abject I feel most of the time, how oppressive my university is, how traumatized I am still by things that happened long ago and that I am still afraid to discuss, do not have anyone I trust to discuss them with, and how much I live under the sign of terror.

I want responses to this post.



11 thoughts on “On teaching, the upshot

  1. I am with you on this. The sense of having to try constantly to be something you are not, and the expectation that you will be interested in things that don’t interest you… and the guilt about what interests you, yes. I feel guilty constantly because I want to do research (have felt that for years, left academia because I came to feel that I was never going to get a non 4-4 job and so was never going to be able to do research), and for me that’s compounded by the disorientation of now being in a field that actively devalues my specific background while at the same time demands a lot of cheerleading. I just want to be quiet and find ways to do the work that feels like mine, and learn how to see the day-to-day stuff as a “day job.” The difficulty for me is, I need to move closer to family/friends/someplace more scholarly, so there’s the extra pressure of feeling like The Job Market Is Watching What I Say.

    So I don’t have words of wisdom for you… just a kind of solidarity. And encouragement for us to find good ways to take care of ourselves and also to find ways to honor our desires.

  2. Thank you, sophylou!

    ***learn how to see the day-to-day stuff as a “day job.”***

    This is key. It is what I want to do, yet it is so difficult because (a) the instructors see it as high drama and make it into that and (b) the faculty members elsewhere who teach these courses see it as their calling, and put all their energy into it. I want to work with other people who can also see it as a day job, put it into perspective….

    Still, the day job reminder helps even now. And I REALLY do not take good enough care of myself, it is ridiculous, yet it is so key.

    1. Yeah, I struggle with the “day job” thing myself because I really don’t want to stay where I am and fear that if I see it as a “day job” I will not grow/develop skills/be marketable (especially since I see people where I am not growing at all and just marking time… even while engaging in all this strange cheerleading. Me, I want less hype and more actual growth/learning). I also know what you mean by everyone else making it into drama and/or CALLING, which makes it hard to detach. But an artist friend has been pushing me to keep thinking “day job,” in the sense that an artist would have a “day job” that allows them to make art. She is encouraging me to see scholarship as art (not a big stretch for me) and balance things accordingly between day job and art making/*actual* calling. Easier said than done, but I like the idea… if I can just make sure that I don’t end up feeling like I’m stagnating and won’t be able to move. I’m not so big on “bloom where you’re planted” right now.

      1. She is right.

        Here is my problem: I don’t want to post on it, it would be too visible, but I don’t mind saying it in comments. I lost my first job because of being too research oriented and not the right kind of teacher-girl, and I got totally tortured by my family because of it. I never recovered and it is why I did not make tenure at the R-1 job I got next: terrified of any slip-up on undergraduate and gen ed teaching, terrified about collegiality, terrified because as I had learned, women have to act a certain way and have certain interests, I put too much time into teaching and service not because I wanted to but because I had been convinced that these things, not research, were key everywhere, really, secretly, and that I was deficient in these and HAD to try twice as hard as the others.

        I have never discussed this because it was a secret, I could not afford to let people know I did not leave that job by choice, and I did not want to deal with people who would ask me what I had done wrong and want me to examine my faults — I knew that really, it was just circumstances, and errors were made, but I did not want to have to deal with anyone who would patronize about it or also get dramatic about it.

        Ideally I would not be teaching in a place where I have to have those same classes and deal with those same kinds of student objections all the time, but I am, and I am constantly terrified. It is really bad for research and for life, and politics are really bad, and I have this primordial and irrational fear that something truly bad will happen all the time.

        I hide from this and do not see it in the proper perspective, although at an intellectual level I know what that perspective is. The fact that I am NOT cut out for what I am doing, at least not within the structure of the current academia, is secondary. THAT can be dealt with but I have to separate it from that primordial fear.

        My mother always said I was unlovable and unemployable and when, after I lost that job my father said he did not think I could get another, I literally felt I had been chopped apart and I have never been able to recover, in part because I have never trusted anyone to talk about it. I could have recovered in my second job, had I not made the mistake of going to therapy about my parents. But that therapist was against my being research oriented just the same way my first job had been, and it was devastating.

        All of this was years ago and I have been thinking I was healing from all the things that happened — that therapist and the practical results of not getting tenure, and the separate horror of working here. But I have realized I have to face that demon of my first job, and I am not sure how. Still, sitting around horrified this weekend has brought me to that realization, so I suppose all of this has not been useless … and I looked up interesting things by Borges.

  3. Like sophylou said upthread, no words of wisdom, just solidarity.

    (Solidarity of a sort anyway — I mean, I know that horrible feeling of feeling pressured to care deeply about things that you really don’t care deeply about. Only in my case, it was the other way around–a lot of pressure to love my research, a lot of bafflement that I wanted to pour energy into teaching. I wish I had something transferable to say about how I made my peace with my preferences, but a lot of it comes down to timing and fortunate circumstances.)

    I’ve seen the time issue come up elsewhere on this blog–the conflict between giving things the ample attention they require yet still giving yourself time for the things that matter to you. Perhaps rather than rationing time, you could think about it as amplitude? The same minutes tick by, either way. Start with the premise that things take the time they take and there’s enough time for all of it (of course there isn’t–we all know that–but living within that knowledge doesn’t seem to be working). When five or six or seven (or whenever your working day ends) comes along, step into a different stream of time, and use it to care for yourself.

    1. About time, bingo, that is so perceptive. Now I am glad I went into this crisis even though one could have been mature and contained matters, because progress has been made.

      I think that for me time is a screen issue — when I talk about it I am really talking about something else, things like whether it is all right to do as one sees fit and knows is right, whether it is all right to enjoy life and be happy.

      I am actually not one who needs to worry about time — I am organized and efficient and believe in time off, all those things. I dislike rushing but that is in part because I am already quite fast, and when I am not it is because I have judged correctly about how much time things will take.

      I got into this time issue at the time of my first book contract, which coincided with losing all my self confidence because of bad psychotherapy. There wasn’t time to finish that project on time as requested and this was true, but since I had lost confidence I had no confidence to ask about more time or about a different shape of project, which was also needed.

      And the people I knew in real life assumed it was all a time and discipline problem. Which it was hardly. I ended up feeling that whatever one was doing, one was spending too much time on it and should be doing something else, and also that since I had no value, time spent on things for me was time poorly spent. Everything could be solved about the book if I just spent no time on anything else, economize time, economize time, write fast, everyone kept saying. And I: even under that regime there would not be enough time, and cutting out everything else is not realistic, and taking no time to reflect is not realistic. And they called me spoiled and immature.

      (My father, the emeritus professor, believes in all time to research, and my dissertation director believed everyone was lazy; I had not fallen prey to their negative views of life but when I was stuck on that book and everyone said it was just that I should go faster on it and also on everything else in life, I sort of went to STOP.)

      So, time as a screen issue, I think this is an important insight. Very important. What am I really talking about when I talk about time? Perhaps the same thing as my mother when she talks about money. It’s a screen word for lack of what I have been calling confidence but perhaps it is love.

  4. I have to get to sleep (9-5 is not ideal for me, but am stuck with it) but wanted you to know I’d read your comment — that is a lot of difficult hard-on-yourself stuff. I have had demon jobs too, but I’ve also been lucky that I haven’t had therapists who opposed the research stuff (but I do know what a mess therapy can cause if it’s focused on the wrong thing — sometimes it seems like you need to find good therapy to deal with the fallout from bad therapy). Historiann’s post made me think a lot about some bad things that linger and continue to affect me from my first job, too. I’m wondering about calling up the ability to talk back to those people at some of those jobs, and to talk more kindly to myself-at-those-jobs. Uphill, but might be worth doing.

    1. Sleep well! 🙂 Re your comment above on blooming where you are planted, I don’t believe in it. Have been trying, and if the soil isn’t right it is just frustrating. You have to be a presence and do your job, but seek your nutrients elsewhere. Believe what I am telling you!

      Hard-on-yourself stuff, I guess so. The culture assumes one is not hard enough, does not take enough responsibility, and this is just not applicable in my case.

      It’s interesting; I realize now that in fact I do talk kindly to myself-at-that-job; I am cool with it in itself; at the same time I do transfer the teaching terror here. I have to find a way to get over that.

      I have to cleanse myself of that first job, it seems, but really I think it is my parents — when I get these student issues and instructor issues it is terrifying because the person I see in them is my mother, insofar as she is someone I must take care of and sacrifice for and who will never be satisfied because I am incapable of not being who I am, in the end.

      I should reimagine her, the time she said “I think you are fantastic.”

      I am old but I live a lot with the things my parents said, especially their anger over my aunt supporting me to go to school. I forget that much of what they had to say was about their own pain and fear, and that much of their violence was liquor speaking, things they didn’t mean and that I would do well to stop taking to heart.

    1. Thanks for your support! 😀

      You should have seen what happened when I tried: calls from all around the country, please don’t do this, you are so good at this, you inspire so many.

      I really would have liked to go to law school and do the work on the prison industrial complex, yes, and the journalistic writing.

      But for right now, what you’ve got are my serious-style university level courses, and my new book on race … sorry! 😀

      I am of course reading your post as encouragement for my other work and career interests, since I don’t get enough of that, I am considered too valuable here. 😀

  5. God. I can’t believe it, this post and thread are featured on Inside Higher Ed. Oh, well … you have a blog, you get an audience. I could password this thread, though, and perhaps I will.

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