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It’s Mid November? Notes from 2+ Months on the Tenure Track

17 Nov

Suddenly it’s mid-November? I don’t know what happened to October. The month was lost in a flurry of emails, teaching, grading, meetings, and trying to get my car to pass emissions inspection. Now it’s nearly Thanksgiving, and I’m starting to reflect on the semester as a whole, while I struggle to get done everything that needs to be done. So many times during the last couple months I’ve thought “oh, I need to blog about this” and then never have the time. The closest I came to “blogging” was a long and overdue “catching up” email to my advisor. Maybe I should just cut/paste that here.

Here’s a smattering of observations and experiences from the last semester:

  • Being tenure track is awesome. It’s just as awesome as I always thought it would be. I feel welcomed at my new school. I feel like I have dozens of new mentors. It’s really fantastic. Actually, yesterday, I felt so much warmth toward my new school, that I almost went into the bookstore and bought a school sweatshirt. I’ve never owned a college sweatshirt (I only own a t-shirt from where I went to grad school) so this seems strangely significant to me.
  • Another part of my new school that’s fantastic is the diversity of the campus. I really, really, appreciate that students, staff and faculty come from so many different backgrounds and experiences. The diversity in my classroom contributes to what we’re able to discuss and learn together.
  • Teaching has been an adjustment, but not a terribly difficult one. Thank goodness that the workshops I attended before classes began helped me get ready for the classroom. I’ve had to rework what I do during class time. I almost spend less time prepping outside of class, and more time listening to my students and thinking in the classroom. My classes are much more interactive, and I’m always thinking on my feet about what I can do differently or use as an example to make a concept clearer. Yes, there are new struggles in terms of getting students to do reading, and make it to class (busy work schedules and long commutes) but they are realistic problems and I’m figuring out how not to let that distract from what we can learn in the classroom.
  • We’ve had some obstacles this semester. The most obvious has been a lost week+ of class time due to Hurricane Sandy. I’ve had to be even more flexible with my syllabus, with deadlines, and have had to make some painful cuts to readings. But, we’ve also been able to have some great discussions about the unequal impact of the hurricane on different areas and segments of the population.
  • After the hurricane we lost power for a week. Thank goodness we live in an apartment with a gas stove and gas hot water heater, so we didn’t suffer too much, although being without internet was difficult to say the least. I couldn’t get to all of my academic books on campus, so instead I read the pile of academic advice books I had here at home (it was either that or get hopelessly lost in a bunch of mysteries). By the light of my headlamp, I ended up reading:
    • Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom by John Bean. I got this one at the writing workshop this summer, but hadn’t had a chance to read it yet. It’s definitely going to be the only teaching book sitting on my desk for a while. Engaging Ideas is chock full of practical, writing-focused teaching ideas. Using it, I drafted some grading rubrics, and constructed a peer evaluation worksheet that we used in class last week.
    • Preparing for Promotion, Tenure, and Annual Review: A Faculty Guide by Robert Diamond. This one was included in the tenure materials given to my by my new school, so it seemed to be an important read. It’s actually quite useful, and I made a ton of notes on what I can include in my retention packet, and prepare for my future tenure dossier.
    • The Teaching Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Performance and Promotion/Tenure Decisions by Seldin, Miller, and Seldin. Another one that my school gave me when I started. This book has lots of concrete examples and will be very helpful when putting together my teaching materials. I also appreciated the focus on being up to date on pedagogy for your discipline– definitely something that I enjoy, and that matters to the school.
    • Finally, I got around to reading Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing by Robert Boice. Boice is the author of Advice for New Faculty, a book which was so revolutionary for me when I read it in grad school that I still keep it by the side of my bed (not kidding). I consider to be sort of a bible for my academic career. Professors as Writers is less philosophical than Advice for New Faculty and very action-oriented. I’m now toying with the idea of waking up a little earlier to do some writing first thing every morning instead of trying to fit it in during the day. While I am not, and will never be, a morning runner (that’s for the evening), I could write for a while with coffee in my PJs. Maybe even before checking my email or Facebook. More on this in another post!
  • It’s a good thing I read all that stuff on retention and promotion during The Great Blackout of 2012, because it turns out I have my first retention packet due in early January! It’s been described to me as “another job application” in terms of professional content (but not in the sense that they don’t keep us– they very much want to work to keep each of us). Thankfully, colleagues have already offered to read drafts of personal statements, and to loan me their retention packets to look at. Here’s what I’m working on for the three areas (weighed equally at my school):
      1. Scholarship: Since we just started, they don’t expect a lot here. I have an article I am planning to send out before the end of the semester. I’m also working on a book review, and a submission for a national conference. Additionally, the contributions I make to a well-known blog count as scholarship. And my participation in the interdisciplinary faculty writing group counts as ongoing commitment to scholarship.
      2. Service: First year faculty are technically exempt from serving on committees, but I was asked to serve on the GLBT Advisory Board and happily accepted. I’m serving as a mentor to an at-risk student on campus. I am also the social media guru for a national organization, which counts as service to a wider community.
      3. Teaching: In our first semester they definitely want to make sure we’re doing well in the classroom and adjusting to new teaching challenges. In this section I expect to talk a lot about the adjustments I’ve already made and what I plan to change in the future. Mid-semester evaluations show that my students are happy with my classes, and the fact they’re asking me what I am teaching next semester leads me to believe I’m doing well. We also do regular peer teaching evaluations. I completed one for an adjunct, and I’ve had 3 colleagues observe my courses. The feedback has been incredibly positive and helpful. I love the fact that the goal is really for all of us to help each other succeed as teachers, and as scholars.

All in all, it’s been a great semester so far. Provided I can make it through all the grading ahead, prep a new syllabus for a spring class, and put together a good retention packet, I should be just fine. I appreciate that a mid-year retention packet helps me think through where I’m at, and goals for the upcoming months.

Really, though, my big goal right now is just to land an office with a window!

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