Sunday, September 24, 2006

Resolutions for the week

Looking at my schedule for this week and the many, many due dates coming up this week, I'm going to have to be *really* organized to get everything done (and still keep my sanity). But even with everything on my to-do list, there are little things that I can do that will help my productivity. So, this week I resolve to do things that will help my productivity and my sanity:

* Close my office door. I don't have to be available all the time. It's ok to pretend I'm not around for a couple hours a day.

* Work at home when I can, even if it's just for an hour or two before going to campus. I've been much more productive at home lately; I'm not sure if that's because I'm not being interrupted all the time at home, or if I feel more comfortable at home (less stressed out about being on campus), or a combination of the two.

* Keep my research time sacred.

* Use "found time" for research. (what a great week to have a standing meeting cancelled! I'm very lucky.)

* Continue to make time to work out. Even if it's just a half-hour walk at lunch.

* Focus on the task at hand and the time I have available, rather than what's left to do.

* Kick perfection to the curb. If there ever was a time for "good enough", this is it!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Signs that my job is taking over my life

I had a dream last night that I was being held hostage by some sort of evil computer man. (I forget his title in the dream, but it was something really corny like Lord Programmer.) I knew that if I stood still for even a minute, Lord Programmer would capture, restrain, and torture me, so I spent most of the dream on the run and trying to get work done (note: it's hard to type and walk at a brisk pace). But eventually, I had to stop moving for a minute, and that's when Lord Programmer's minions---who in this dream were being played by my four favorite students, past and present---captured me. I knew what I was in for and started screaming wildly, trying to get free. That's when I woke up, fortunately.

I have found it very hard to keep my work from taking over my life this year, so the fact that I had a dream like this is not at all surprising. I feel like I work all the damn time and yet get nothing done. And when I'm not working, I feel guilty about it---which I realize is totally ridiculous and unhealthy, but that doesn't stop the guilt. Or worse, I take a break (such as an evening off), and then feel frantic the next day about all of the work I need to get done to "make up" for the time off.

I need to get a grip. Clearly I haven't found the work mode that works for me this semester/term, and clearly I need to figure out what that is, pronto, for my sanity and my health.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Testing the limits

I am teaching a class that has a high number of freshmen boys young men in it. So far, the energy and attitude of the class has been overwhelmingly positive, and the students are great, individually and as a group. But given the demographics, and given that I am a young-looking female authority figure, I figured it was a matter of time before someone in the class tested me.

That moment came today.

It wasn't anything blatantly bad (and I've certainly had to deal with Mr. Toxic in my classes before---today's issue was not even in the same universe as that). It was basically two overly-chatty young men in the front row who were just a little too disruptive to the class. Now normally, I'm ok with a little bit of chatter, when it's students clarifying points for each other or asking "did you get that?". That's fine, as long as it's kept discreet and short. This was neither. This was prolonged and obvious.

My first strategy in this situation is to stare directly at the chatters and say loudly "is there a question?" This is usually enough to mortify one or both participants into silence, or if not then they're usually bright enough to know that what I'm really saying is SHUT UP ALREADY and they comply. So of course I tried that, and it had no effect.

Because I was still trying to assess the situation (clueless freshmen or testing-authority freshmen?), I stuck to more subtle forms of shut-up-please strategies for the rest of the class period: standing directly in front of them while talking to the class, glaring focusing my glance on them more frequently, using the line "So-and-so just had a great question; let's all pay attention while she repeats it for us." After reflecting on their behavior and on how the class went, I'm convinced that this was definitely a mild testing-of-authority. I don't think they meant to do it maliciously; rather, I suspect this is part of the I'm-away-from-home-for-the-first-time-let's-see-what-I-can-get-away-with adjustment to college. But I do know that I have to nip this in the bud, because I can see this getting out of hand rather quickly if I don't do something.

Figuring out what to do in this situation is always tricky. I suspect I will see what happens on Wednesday, and step in more quickly if I have to. I suspect I will have to talk to one or both chatters after class and let them know what's acceptable behavior and what is not. I just have to figure out what's the best way to convey to them that I may look like Dr. Nice Gal, but that doesn't mean that they don't owe me the same respect that they give to their other professors. And I have been known to turn into Dr. Raging Mean Prof when pushed too far. And that they really don't want to go there.

We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Embracing "good enough"

As a recovering perfectionist, one of the things I struggle with is leaving things "good enough". In some areas of my life---my research, especially---I've come a really long way. For instance, I am getting pretty good about sending out results in a more timely manner, rather than holding on to them until they are "perfect". Sure, this means that the reviews the first time I send something out are not all sweetness and light, but sending out my work earlier = more feedback earlier = better work as a result. So this is one place where "good enough" is actually much more effective than "perfect".

I'm having a much harder time doing "good enough" in my teaching, though, and I think this might be one of the big things that's standing in my way.

I'm a detail person. That's why I got into this field---all those little technical details are so darned fascinating! Unfortunately, sometimes I get so hung up in the details part that I forget that there's a big picture lurking in there. I tend to focus on the details so much that those details become the focus, rather than the big picture being the focus. And that gets me into trouble---because the students need the big picture (and can probably handle figuring out those fascinating details on their own, for the most part).

Today was a perfect example of this sort of behavior. The original plan: class prep in the morning, freeing up at least part of the afternoon for research. In one class, I'm teaching a topic I've taught several times before, but haven't been really happy with the example I used. So part of this morning's class prep task was to find/develop a better example, and then outline the class based on and around that example. Perfect situation for "good enough", right? Yet I got completely mired in the details. Rather than picking a "good enough" example and running with it, I got stuck trying to find the "perfect" example for this topic. You know, the one that is easy enough to use in a class period yet cutting-edge and current, pedagogically perfect....etc. I completely got lost in the details---the actual example---to the point of forgetting, well, the point: the core concept that I want my students to LEARN. I spent way too much time on this task, which meant that instead of relaxing at home tonight, I'm sitting here writing up my class outline instead. Bleh.

My most successful classes have been the ones where I've let go of the need for perfection, let some of the details slide, and focused on a couple of key concepts. I did this pretty consistently in my intro class last year, from start to finish, with great success. And you know what? The students *learn more*. Much more. And are happier. Which makes me happier, and more relaxed as a teacher, and thus more effective as a teacher.

I'm making a concerted effort to teach less perfectly this year, although as today's example shows, I have a long way to go on this. I do wonder, though, why a lesson I've embraced in other areas of my life is so hard to embrace in my "teaching life".

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Academic resolutions broken ALREADY

You'd think I'd be able to get through September at least without breaking my academic resolutions, but no. I worked both days this weekend. This is bad, because this week is going to be crazy and I really should have had more downtime this weekend to mentally prepare for it. I'm going to be paying for this come Wednesday, when I'm burned out and crabby.

Oh well. I will force myself to shut off the computer...soon...maybe...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Conference blogging

This morning's email brought an annoucement about various things related to this conference. One of the things was a call for volunteers to "live blog" the conference.

I am torn as to whether or not I want to do this.

On the one hand, I definitely plan on blogging from the conference. It was such a great experience for me last time that I want to (a) share it with others who can't make it, and (b) have somewhat of a record for myself of my impressions, etc.

On the other hand, I'm a bit wary about being public about my blogging. I worry that blogging during sessions will make it easy for people to glance over and match up the blog name with the name on the nametag, and there goes whatever illusions of anonymity I have. Is this even an issue? Probably not as much as I make it out to be---I probably am not as anonymous as I'd like to think I am. But I still worry about it.

(Also, related to the last point, I'll have students with me, who will ostensibly be at some of the same sessions as me, and I really don't want to "come out" to my students, now or ever!!)

So, to be an "official" blogger or not? I'll have to ponder some more. Has anyone done anything similar, and if so, what was the experience like for you? Would you do it again?

Ambivalence, part 2

A few weeks ago I posted about being ambivalent about the start of the school year. I was hoping that by now I'd have found my rhythm and that the rhythm and routine of the school year would help me feel better about all things school-related.

Well, I'm still waiting for the ambivalence to disappear.

I don't feel good about myself right now, about being back at school, even about being in social situations with my friends. I'm usually fairly outgoing among my friends and co-workers. Lately? I hide in my office unless I absolutely have to talk to someone, and when I'm out with friends I'm strangely quiet. I just don't know what to say or how to engage with people right now. I'm slow returning emails and phone calls. I feel like I have to try really hard to be social and "interesting" to people. I feel like I just complain all the time---maybe that's why I'm reluctant to engage with people I care about.

School-wise, my confidence is at an all-time low about my teaching. I'm teaching some really great stuff to some really interesting students, and one of my courses has a ton of buzz around it (but interestingly, only from people outside my department). But my brain has chosen to play, in an infinite loop, all the negative things that my colleagues have said about my teaching. As a result, I find myself starting to do some really unhealthy things, like overprepare for class, stress about things beyond my control, and second-guess every pedagogical decision I make.

I thought I was hiding this fairly well, but yesterday a colleague I'm really close to pulled me aside and said "You do not look happy. Something is definitely wrong. Tell me what's up." And it was then that I realized that I've been in denial about this stuff for a long time now, and that I had to do something to make me feel like I have some semblance of control over my work life, which is where I think this all originated in the first place.

So for now, I'm in a funk. I'm trying to find my way out of it, muddling through life for now. I'm not sure how long I'll be here, or if this is just a temporary thing or one that will linger. Hopefully I'll figure this all out soon.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The cloud and the silver lining

This morning there was a paper rejection in my Inbox.

The "cloud" aspect of this:

  • It's a rejection. Rejections suck as a general rule.

  • Very few helpful revision comments. I sent the paper to a conference in a field in which this work does fall (it straddles several subfields), and the comments all focused on things that, frankly, are peripheral issues to this particular work. (I hate when that happens!) I should have anticipated the comments and addressed them in the paper, but I didn't. Lesson learned.

  • This is the third go-round for the paper. Well, let's call it 2.5, since the first time I resubmitted it I made almost no revisions before turning it around. I really thought I had adequately addressed all of the earlier shortcomings. I really thought it had a good chance of being accepted.

  • I really wanted to go to this conference. I've never been. (I might still go, depending on the travel budget this year, but we'll see.)

  • I have to put writing up new aspects of my work on hold until I can turn this paper around.

The "silver lining" aspect of this:

  • The worst reviewer only marked it "weak reject". The other reviewers recommended it be accepted (at various levels of accept). So the paper definitely has merit. Which I knew already, but it's nice to have that reaffirmed.

  • There is a deadline for another conference coming up quickly. I was planning on submitting new work (see above), but getting very stressed out because the writeup/analysis is going much slower than I'd like and I wasn't sure if I could make the deadline. Resubmitting this paper instead means a ton less work for me for this deadline, and means that I can submit the new work to a conference with a deadline later in the fall.

  • This other conference is both more prestigious and a better fit for this work. Hopefully that means our chances of acceptance are good.

  • I now know how to make this work look more acceptable to this particular subfield. Which means I could potentially broaden the scope/exposure of this work. Which is definitely A Good Thing.