Monday, August 18, 2014

Day 41 - Getting back on the horse

Having been interrupted by the interruption of my internet connection last week, I will attempt to return to something like a normal schedule of posting. I also intend to 'make good' on my missed posts as well, posting maybe two a day until I'm up to date.
We'll see how I get on with that.

Today was not just my day to start writing, it was also one of the islands of work days around which I have booked my annual leave this summer. We had an exam board and I had arranged a meeting to discuss criteria (more on criteria tomorrow!).
Going back to work for just a day does not fill me with enthusiasm for going back to work at all, and I will (on Thursday) be back at work, just about until Christmas. I feel like I'm going to have to make some real changes to my working life and my life life in order to make getting up in the morning not just something that has to be done, but something I want to do.

I don't quite know what those changes are yet, and I'm expecting not to really know for a while. I think that it's going to be trial and error, and I think that there are going to be times where I struggle. And I think that this is ok. We don't solve problems like this over night, whether these problems are in academia or in the privacy of our own homes.
I think that sometimes, we can kid ourselves into thinking that, as academics, we should be able to fix entire modules, administrative problems, study skills programmes, etc. in the space of one summer, and then feel alternately intimidated or like a failure when that doesn't happen. Most of us are making this up as we go along - based on experience and on our reading and discussion, sure, but it's still largely extemporised based on what gets thrown at us on a daily basis. We work our way through on the basis of advice from colleagues, advice from students (which is sometimes the best and most perceptive advice and feedback going: please listen to what your students are saying [and not just the superficial message - listen to what they mean]), empirical observation, self reflection, etc. and, generally speaking, things get better.

There is one module that I have been teaching for six years, and I have grown to hate it. The logistics of the module have been complex, and students have been frustrated by it, and frustrated by my inability to bring order to it. This year, I taught the whole thing myself. It was time-consuming (I wrote a lot of new material) and a little stressful, but I enjoyed teaching it so much. And the students loved it (at least they said they did) too. I followed the small voice I'd had in the back of my head from almost the very start of the module: the small voice that I'd ignored year after year, but the small voice that knew what it was talking about.

As I contemplate the beginning of a new term, I'm thinking about this cyclical pattern of the years. Is it a Sisyphean treadmill, or a process of perpetual renewal, and what can we do to transform it from the former into the latter?

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