My boy-was-this-way-too-long third year review is finally and mercifully winding down. There is one final meeting with the dean and the chair and then we can put this one in the books. I have a home here for the next few years, but I'll also have to put in a lot of hard work if I want to be here after that. It's not the outcome I was hoping for, but I'm focusing on the positive and trying to figure out ways to improve and to get the help I need (ironically, it's the teaching that is dragging me down overall) so that I can be here---if I choose to do so---for many years to come.
Looking back on the process now, I can say that I was not prepared for how stressful and how difficult this process would be for me, and that the process was not at all like what it was presented to be by the senior faculty and administration. Going into this process, I felt very confident; coming out of it, I feel demoralized and with little of my self-confidence intact.
There are several reasons for this. First, I feel like the process was misrepresented from the start. It was sold to us as a checkpoint, a chance to gain valuable feedback from senior colleagues, a chance to reflect on the first couple of years on the tenure track and assess where you are and where you want to be and how you are getting there from here. The administration, the senior faculty, your students, everyone wants you to succeed, and will do whatever they can to help you do that.
That sounds wonderful! The reality, though, was quite different. Feedback only helps if your colleagues are willing to be honest with you about what's working and what isn't. The whole system, in fact, is predicated upon this. Yet I found that my colleagues would say one thing to me, and a totally different thing behind closed doors. It's hard to take advantage of feedback if it's not freely given, or not given at all. It's hard to correct weaknesses when the weaknesses are only spelled out to the tenure and promotion committee and not to the candidate herself.
Second, I have been extremely proactive about seeking out mentoring and advice from my senior colleagues. I have been burned in the past before by "falling through the cracks", and going into this job I was determined not to let the same thing happen. I have taken them to coffee, made a point of seeking them out after they observed my classes and asked for specific feedback, adopted one senior colleague as a formal mentor, and taken the time to learn who knows what and gone to them for advice on various things. All of this work has earned me....nothing. I have done everything that a junior faculty person should do, and I was still blindsided by the outcomes of my review. This should not have happened. But it did.
Third, after this whole experience I feel less sure of my department's desire to see me succeed here. I trust my senior colleagues much less than I did going into this year. I feel as though they have let me down, by not respecting me enough to be honest with me. I will need their help in order to get to where I need to be, but to be honest I'm not sure if I trust them at this point to help me do that. And that's a really icky feeling to have--that those who should be looking out for you, aren't.
So as not to be totally negative, I do think that I learned a lot from this experience. I got a better idea of which students I'm reaching best with my teaching style and which are not receiving it as effectively. I've had some personal insights about the persona I project, and how I unwittingly project totally different personas even within the same class. The things I have to change about my teaching, now that I understand what they are, should not be that hard to tackle, and in fact I already have some great ideas on addressing a few of them (that should yield the biggest payoff, too). And I finally have some clarity about "how much research", which is a big relief.
The next few years should be interesting. While the review was disappointing (and somewhat infuriating) overall, I am determined to prove to myself and to my school that I can do better. I am excited to get back into the classroom and try out some of the insights and ideas I now have, and to figure out how to better structure my classes. I'm less excited about dealing with my department, and I suspect that I will have to seek out advice from outside the department in how to deal with them and how to make sure that I get the feedback and mentoring that I need.
The million dollar question, of course, is do I want to stay around long enough for that?