Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Time in slow motion

Our Honda Odyssey has a rather annoying feature. If one makes the mistake of trying to open the sliding side doors while locked, rather than what might be most useful and expected (simply not opening, which for any reasonable human being would be enough to indicate the possible need to unlock) they rather first attempt to open, then beep three times, then force a delay of another couple seconds while the system resets. Whatever the reasoning behind this, the nuisance factor far outweighs any imaginable benefit.

And so it is with the waiting in our lives. The decision is made, the effort has been initiated, and now we listen to the beeping of time, and realize there will yet be another inevitable delay following. Because my heart has departed from Lemon, I find myself dreading even more than usual the grading, which I ploddingly get through. Am I just whining?

I complain about my 72 students (ostensibly tended during a laughably fictitious 16-hour workweek). And I hear of friends with far more students. Of course, they are full-time, tenure-track, reasonably compensated, with benefits, and an office, and... But, I believe they are overloaded as well. Both friends I think of teach at state schools, and have 100 or more students in 3, 4, 5 classes per term. I wonder if "learning centered" isn't simply a euphemism for "we really don't care about the students or faculty, so long as we can cram a whole load of them into the same classroom." But I digress.

I have been reading more on the website about Miwla College. Small class sizes, full commitment to interdisciplinarity, and international education (40% of the graduates have spent a term or a year overseas, and their goal is to exceed 50%). It sounds like a great place for me. I don't think I'm whining so much, as I come to hold a clearer understanding of my expectations and my tolerances. I love to teach, but not if it means teaching more than 60 students per term. I've simply set a cap. I love my research also, and... my family.

Rocket has been looking over possible photographer websites, thinking she might like to get a nice pregnancy portrait done. One site, whose images we like, presents a comment on finding a photographer that self-congratulatorily indicates that "She has spent the necessary 16 hour days, 7 days a week learning and refining her craft." Ha!

Necessary! I wonder at this absurdity that somehow true love of a profession requires sacrifice of self. Why should teachers be praised for spending 60 or 80 hours a week on task? It's an odd praise. As someone who has worked 16 hour days at one point in my life. It doesn't make you better at your task. It wears you out. It reduces your productivity and concentration, and often compromises the quality of your results. There is no necessity in suffering. And, while many of us do get through, there's no reason to suspect that we wouldn't have accomplished as much if we spent less, but perhaps more concentrated, time on the effort.

I think I'll begin an occasional series of posts on unexamined assumptions.


Lilian said...

I'll be looking forward to those posts. We also have an Odissey albeit an older model one with "regular" car doors.

Tracy said...

We have a 2002 Odyssey and I HATE the beeping! Our mantra is always, "You've gotta be smarter than the Honda..." (I covet a new Odyssey in that kind of ice blue/gray color, but I really want it to be a hybrid. Ours is red, and annoying beeps aside, we love it.)

I can't even imagine teaching less than 60 students per semester. I'm lucky to have less than 60 in one section! (All of my intro courses are "capped" at 60 students -- imagine if I filled all the seats! Last semester I came close with 55 in one and 60 in the other, plus an upper-division course at 32.)