This semester has been frustrating in some ways. I still love my job and work with great people, but the type of work that appeared this semester has been frustrating because so very little of it has involved learning or creating anything new.
I teach five classes each semester -- that's fifteen credits. Plus, I have a few other "service" types of responsibilities that count as "credits" that add up to a total of nineteen credits. So, I've had a lot of work; yet very little of it has been satisfying.
Two of my classes are online. They are classes that I've taught in a classroom, so I don't have to learn any new information. That's less work overall, but that also means that the work to do is very administrative and mundane. I create assignments, write up documents for the week's work, and grade the work. This is not what gets me jazzed about teaching. This is the part of teaching that all teachers dread and complain about, and it is the whole class. Plus, if students tend not to read the syllabus in general, you can imagine all of the information that they miss if they have weekly versions of the syllabus to follow! Fortunately, for the most part, they all settled into the rhythm of the work by the third week, but I still get e-mails saying "I can't find the quiz" or "I don't see the assignment" when the quizzes and assignments are all right where they have been for the past twelve weeks.
Now I'm bitching.
The other classes are the traditional classroom -- face-to-face -- classes. They are all the same course, and I've taught the course before, so the preparation time has decrease dramatically from last year. Both last fall and last spring I had four different preparations. Over the year, of ten courses, nine were ones that I either had never taught before or that I had to build from the ground up when I discovered that I had lost my class notes. Plus, having access to reliable technological support for the first time in my career, I could make Power Points for all of my lectures (not text based, mind you, just outlines and lots and lots of images), which I did. That was lots and lots of work. This semester has not required that monumental effort.
Yet, in teaching the same courses in class and in having constant virtual paperwork to prepare for the online classes, I haven't really had the time to learn anything new or to create anything new. This has taken some of the fun out of teaching and has made me feel (and be) less and less of an historian.
I like being an academic because the heart of academic work is the constant learning and creating that comes from reading, research, teaching, and writing. Of all of these, all that I've been able to do this semester has been the teaching.
My teaching tends to be lecture intensive. Yes, I know this is considered the worst method of education; but it is the method at which I am best. I tell a damn good story. I am a pretty damn good performer. My students return to the class because I "make the subject interesting."
Also, I'm getting a bit skeptical about educational theories. I hate feeling "anti-intellectual" about any field of expertise, but in this case, I do. Through all of these Teaching and Learning courses that they require us to take here, I am told "expertise in a subject is the hallmark of a great educator" on Monday, and "the best teachers teach what they don't know" on Friday. By the following Wednesday, I end up saying, "Whatever." I lecture well, I engage the students, I give them room to discuss if they feel the need. This is a strength, not a weakness; and I'm sick of apologizing for it.
This is all to say that lecturing has been one activity that has not frustrated me this semester. Going along with the lecturing has been my acting class (for which I seem to have exhibited a real gift for comedy, and the more physical the comedy, the better I am). I love this and want to write another post about it because there is so much to discuss about it. Suffice to say here that the class has allowed me to learn more about the literature and art of Shakespeare -- and he truly was and is a genius -- through the performance of scenes in his plays -- which is really the best way to learn Shakespeare. This has been profound.
In the frustration of this semester, in the mundane nature of most of my daily tasks, there has been a calm. Calm in my life is dangerous. I start to think about things that I normally try to avoid because they disturb me.
Of these things that I try to avoid are my limitations as a historian. I accept that I am limited, but recently, I haven't confronted those limitations by putting in the extra effort that I've always had to exert to overcome my intellectual weaknesses. I fall back on the lack of research and publication requirements of my job for an excuse. I tell myself that I've been too busy with the parts of my job for which I get paid; but going to the Big Berks, the Little Berks, and the conference in Michigan all forced me to realize how rusty and avoidant I've become. My job may not require that I research and write, but I do.
Normally, I've adopted the tactic of "done and flawed is better than perfect and incomplete." This semester, with the lack of creativity in my daily life, I realize that I'm not even getting to the "done" part -- heck, I'm not even getting to "start." That is not good. The discomfort of being imperfect, flawed, and criticized is not nearly as bad as the self-loathing that comes from not even trying in the first place.
I'm in a bit of a sophomore slump this semester, compounded by an overall lack of energy that I chalk up to some PTSD and survivor's remorse from some bad experiences and dodged bullets of the past couple of years. After all, I went from one frying pan into another frying pan into another for five to seven years. Then, had I not gotten this job, the death of my boss at my last job would have left me unemployed or cataloging books (which I hate and at which I also suck) in the middle of nowhere when a depression hit. I look at my unemployed friends and read about all of these graduating PhDs hitting a job market that shrinks as they write their job letters and I am so very grateful for my position here, yet feeling very guilty that my good luck is just that: luck.
In any case, I write this post to identify and describe my slump so that I can fix the frustration. Here is one problem: lack of creativity in my daily tasks. Here it the other problem: lack of research and writing. Here is the solution: make the damn time for research and writing, and hence, creativity. I'm hoping that the creativity gives me the sort of energy -- like the high after acting class or writing a blog post -- that builds on itself at least until the end of some particular project.