Monthly Archives: February 2012

What Professors Really Do

You know that meme, What Professors Really Do?  It shows what others think we do, and what we actually do — tons and tons of paperwork.  We get lost in paperwork; we fritter away in details.  It doesn’t show what I thought I would do.  When I was an undergrad, I imagined my professors sitting in their offices reading interesting books and talking to each other about cutting-edge theories.  I thought they spent their lives in intellectual conversation.  I remember seeing my poetry professor walk across campus one fall day, the golden and brown leaves swirling around his legs as he strode along, lost in thought, books tucked under his tweed with suede elbow patch clad arm.  I think that moment sealed my fate.  It was so Romantic, so ideal.

Reality — I do shift a lot of paper, metaphorically and physically.  I fritter much. My time is often spent in administrative tasks — committee work, grade reporting, advising reports, club budgets and service reports, event planning, meeting planning, meeting, meeting, meeting.  Department duties, university duties. All that then there’s teaching — five classes, an overload.  Freshman Composition, Sophomore British Literature Survey, upper-level literature courses, graduate courses.  This semester I’m teaching every level — freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, MA.

The time and space for intellectual conversation, for reading interesting books, is terribly limited.  Fortunately, my mentor and friend, Janet Land, is the director of our new Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL).  She has started book discussion groups and is giving us a space to discuss important ideas and to plot to change the world.

Because that’s what I thought I would be doing.  In my own small way, I thought I would be changing the world. Instead we often get so caught up in the tasks, the duties, that we don’t take time to see big picture, to see the structure, to change the world.

Friday afternoon, I took time to go to the coffee shop with a friend FOR NO REASON.  No meeting, no agenda. And I noticed a book on the counter behind the college kid who was tending the register.  An Introduction to Conducting. How neat, I thought, a book on conducting! And I looked around and remembered being an undergrad.  For just a moment I recalled the wonder — we are in one space with a couple thousand young people who are all studying and learning and exploring.  It’s not the paper.  It’s the space. The discussions.

We have to remember we can change the world. And then we have to make space and time to do so.

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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Uncategorized


How I Won’t Spend My Summer

I had planned to apply to the Jane Austen NEH Summer Seminar this June and July. I’m teaching a Jane Austen course in the fall, I need some professional development stuff for my tenure portfolio — all seemed to fit. Now I’ve decided against it. Why?

1.  It’s five weeks in Missouri.  Now I’m sure Missouri is a lovely place, but if I’m studying Jane Austen for five weeks, I really want to be in Bath.

2. It’s five weeks in Missouri.  Figuring out arrangements for husband and by then 4-year-old is problematic to say the least. They could go with me, of course, but this would cut out possibilities of spending time with family in Alabama, of going to the beach, of doing other things.

3.  My dear friend is getting married in July and the seminar would overlap.  We’ve all been dreaming of this wedding for years; I’m not going to miss it if I can help it.

4. I don’t need it.  For one thing, I’ve spent a whole lot of time studying Jane Austen in grad school and on my own, so I’m not sure I’m the person who would benefit the most from a program like this.  And I’m fortunate to be at a university where publications are important, but I don’t feel the pressure to attend a five-week program while I have a small child just to fill a line on a CV. My friend and associate provost asked me my second fall semester here how my summer had gone. Wheeler was four-months-old at the time, and I said that I didn’t get any work done, which was disappointing, but I spent a lot of time with Wheeler.  “Good,” she said. “Work will always be there. Babies won’t.” He’s not a baby anymore, but summers are magical growing times when he turns brown in the sun and lean and tall with running and swimming and I can’t miss that.

Seminars and work will always be there. Summer with a 4-year-old won’t.


Posted by on February 6, 2012 in Uncategorized