So, regular readers of this space know that last year, at least before Baby Jane arrived, I was on sabbatical. It was always my intention to do a reflective post on "what I learned on my sabbatical" upon returning to work. But life with an infant does not allow for much reflection, so the post was never written.
I actually think that's a good thing, because now that I've been back at work for a few months, I think I have a better perspective on what my sabbatical taught me.
First, and most unexpectedly, my sabbatical brought me a new perspective on my relationship with my colleagues and my place in the department. I find that my interactions with and responses to my colleagues are more measured. I am more direct, in my opinions and requests. I speak up, but I choose my words more carefully. I am not afraid to stand up for something, but I also choose my battles better, and am more diplomatic than I used to be. Do things still bug me? Absolutely. Am I always listened to? No way. But I sense that my words and ideas now carry more weight, and that I'm getting people to listen to me and take my ideas more seriously. And that's making a huge difference, especially in how I feel day-to-day in my job.
Second, my sabbatical helped me gain a new perspective on my teaching. Actually I think it pushed along the natural evolution of my teaching, but the point is that ironically, stepping out of the classroom for a year was probably the best thing I could have done to improve my teaching. I've pared my classes down to the essentials. I teach less "stuff" than ever before, yet my students are learning tons more, asking better questions, making better insights about the material. My assignments are much better integrated into the fabric of the course---and in fact, inform the way I've structured each course. I tend to be such a detail person, which has hurt my teaching in the past, but the time away to reflect helped me develop strategies to combat this tendency. I feel comfortable in the classroom again, and confident in my ability to reach my students. I don't feel 100% sure that this will be enough to earn me tenure, but I also don't feel anymore like there's no way I'll get tenure.
Finally, as odd as this may sound given the tenor of recent posts here, sabbatical reaffirmed the importance of having some semblance of balance (ha!) in my life. OK, maybe "balance" is a little optimistic these days. But how important it is to do little things, like make time to work out every day, or take time off on the weekends, or for pete's sake enjoy my daughter and husband and do fun things as a family and get out of the house every once in a while. It's hard to justify taking the time to do these things, especially when the laundry is piling up and the kitchen floor hasn't been cleaned since Christmas and there's always more work that needs to be done, but not blowing this stuff off every once in a while is only going to make a person sick, or perpetually pissed off, and less able to Get Stuff Done. Having a chance to take an extended breather, and learning that I could be more productive when I did so, reminded me of that fact.
So there you have it. Sabbatical was of course valuable from a research perspective (although I didn't get as much done as I wanted---does anyone??), but for me, it was more valuable for the non-research related reasons. And that in itself was a particular kind of renewal for me.