Thursday, May 17, 2012

Percentage Shift

The envelope arrived in the mail today.  The one marked PERSONAL and CONFIDENTIAL. The one that would tell me the results of my reappointment application, submitted in February.  It contained a contract through 2014 and a two page summary of my Dean's recommendation for reappointment and the personnel committee's evaluation of my work.  So the good news is that I have been reappointed, my last formal evaluation before submitting my tenure package.  As I read through the committee's evaluation of my work, I reflected on their comments.  The report was broken into three categories - research, teaching, and service - listed in this order.

It is common knowledge in the academic community that faculty must demonstrate excellence in each of these areas.  Institutions value each area differently, but I know that research is listed first at my university.  I knew it when I accepted the job 6 years ago.  I knew it when I became pregnant with twins in my first year. I knew it when I finally started writing again after my twins turned two.  It's the hardest of the three areas to balance as a working mom, and I feel I have done well in forging new research territory and writing for my academic community over the last few years, but I also know that I have room for growth in my research productivity.  My writing voice is best suited for personal writing or for teaching journals; my academic voice takes effort and time that I have struggled to find in my current position.

A few weeks ago my colleagues and I held a book club discussion of Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.  As I read the book , I thought that academia offered many of the characteristics that Pink suggests create a motivating environment.  I left our discussion wondering how much autonomy I truly had in my job, and I embarked on a short study to see how I spent my working hours.

For one week I tracked my time and at the end of that week, I separated my activity into four categories: research, teaching, service, and email.  Research activities related to my current writing projects; teaching activities included planning for class, holding class, meeting with doctoral students, reading comprehensive examinations and dissertations, and responding to student work; service included any administrative tasks assigned to me, school or committee meetings, and pro bono consultation.  It was impossible to separate the time spent on individual emails, which may have fallen into any of the three categories (though most often in the service category), so I kept track of time spent responding to email separately.

My results in terms of the percentage of my time spent on each category:

Teaching  61%
Service    24%
Email       13%
Research   2%

Admittedly, this sample came from the end of the semester, and I would like to take samples next year from several other points; however, it is clear that I am not finding time for my research and writing, and the comments of the personnel committee on my reappointment package reflect these numbers above.  I dedicate myself to my students; I contribute greatly to the university and school; I need to continue to pursue prominent peer reviewed journals as venues for publication.

As a tenure track faculty member, I should be spending 1/3 of my time on my research.  To do that, these numbers need to shift.  And I'm not quite sure how to make that happen.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Passion and Politics

When my husband and I decided to move our family to our "permanent" home, the one where we would raise our children through their school years, I researched districts thoroughly. I looked at public data; when possible, I spoke with parents, teachers and students in the districts; I thought about whether I would want to be a teacher in that district. We landed in a great area that includes local K-8 districts and a regional high school district. Though it's not my favorite configuration administratively, I am comfortable with this structure since it resembles the district where I began my teaching career. I know from a teacher's perspectives the challenges and benefits to a regional high school district.

My town's regional district just announced an administrative restructuring in response to state mandates and local concerns. As part of this restructuring, they are creating a district supervisor of English. This position is tempting for me, primarily because of the five mile commute it would afford. There are a host of other pros and cons to throwing my name in the hat for this position, all of which I shared with my husband this morning. What concerns me about that list, however, is the con that stands above all others - the person who takes this position will undoubtedly be responsible for ELA testing, accountability, and teacher morale related to these issues. I have been able to subvert these issues as a classroom teacher and teacher educator, working behind the scenes to build teenagers' literacy in spite of high stakes accountability. I fear that as an administrator, I would face politics head on, and I'm afraid of what it would do to my passion for teaching and learning.

Much has been said in my professional communities about the effects of standardization and testing on children's learning. I am currently reading Drive by Daniel Pink, which has helped me understand why a carrot and stick approach does little to motivate creative teaching and passionate learning. Teaching is an art; teachers need autonomy to assess their students, to know their communities, and to develop instruction that meets the needs of both. They need time to collaborate, time to talk with one another, and time to feed their own learning. Recently, I wrote an article that focused on the connections I have made as a teacher, connections that inspire my continued development. It might seem strange that great teaching is fueled by two seemingly disparate states - being autonomous and being connected. However, any great teacher will agree that these are two of the keys to success. If politicians understood this art of teaching, perhaps all of us in education would have less fear and more passion.

This morning my husband confirmed for me that changing jobs is not what I want - regardless of the commute. I like my current position, my colleagues, and my students. I love the autonomy that my job affords, and I appreciate the connections that I make nationally and locally to fuel my own learning. I have no doubt that my passion will be sparked time and again, and perhaps, I can continue to push politically in a way that others do not feel empowered to do.