OT (at least partially): Whining

I think I now finally have all of the student papers off my desk that were submitted to me. I shouldn’t get any more until finals. Two weeks. After that, the flood.

The general perception in the U.S. is that professors have it easy. This always frustrates me. We have a lot of freedom, but we also have a lot of responsibility. We have similar workloads to other highly educated professionals, as far as I can tell. I don’t have many fixed appointments where I have to be in a particular place at a particular time, but those fixed appointments are almost absolute, and I have to discipline myself to get the necessary work done even though I don’t have a supervisor. I was documenting my hours worked in the fall at the advice of my therapist and I was averaging 75 per week in October and November. So it’s perhaps not surprising that many of us take every opportunity we can at free moments not to be on the clock. For two weeks in December I did nothing because I was so tired that I spent entire days sleeping. Essentially in the U.S. many of us do a year of work in nine months. That’s what we signed up for, and I accept it and at times I love it but it is annoying to hear regularly from people outside the academy that professors are lazy. I am sure some of us are. And I am sure that is also true of some lawyers, doctors, politicians, parents, and factory workers.

As with any job there are things I like better and worse. I love the classroom, and I am very positive about research and writing in general (though I have had my share of problems with the latter). I am neutral with regard to administrative work, although positive if it is administration that relates to the creation of knowledge or the facilitation of education. The only thing I am really, really negative about is grading. I wish I could teach without having to grade. I honestly struggle with every grade I give, and with as many students as I have this semester, when every grade turns into an emotional struggle I spend weeks in agony over every assignment. When I start reading a paper that I know can’t get a score better than 70 I have to force myself to keep reading because I know that writing that number on the page is going to make my wrist ache. So I shuffle the worst papers to the bottom of the pile, and procrastinate, and it all ends in a compulsory all-day, all-night last minute debauch of grading that leaves me with a feeling worst than the most terrible alcohol hangover I ever had.

And yet good evaluation is a really important part of post-secondary education. Knowing how much to say, what to say, when to compliment, when just to note that you agree with the student or find something they wrote amusing or profound, knowing when to criticize and how much, knowing how to tell the student what to do in the revision or in the next assignment, getting all of this right is a chief way of really helping students learn, and thus a chief obligation of being a professor. So even if for some reason employers and other educational institutions decided they were no longer interested in evaluation, students would still need to have the experience. Students of mine have also told me that they find my way of giving feedback helpful.

So I have to find a way to keep doing it.

Though: what I really want to be doing lately, to the detriment of my responsibilities, is watching Mr. Armitage and writing about him and his various roles. It would be really interesting to watch him play a professor, I think. He looks great in glasses, which accentuate and spotlight the architectural qualities of his nose. This screencap from Between the Sheets represents how I felt this morning, after a twelve-hour nap after two solid days of grading.

Richard Armitage as Paul Andrews in Between the Sheets, episode 2. Source: Richard Armitage Central Gallery

~ by Servetus on April 22, 2010.

13 Responses to “OT (at least partially): Whining”

  1. This is so much more accurate and clear than my piece about the academic schedule. Thank you.


  2. @servetus – I don’t think this is whining at all!

    I love boys in glasses too…especially RA!! I can’t even begin to imagine having him as one of my profs at university…I’d be daydreaming all class! Especially if he was teaching the summer course I had to take in 1991…Victorian Novels – ahem…excuse me, I think I will go imagine him as my Victorian Novels prof…


  3. This is exactly why I’ve never accepted offers to teach. Too much work, too little reward. I don’t know what things are like in the States but I get a sense here that the passion that academics have for their work is exploited a little (or perhaps a lot).

    Funny you mention RA playing a professor. I began writing something on actors as pseudo sociologists today. RA’s studious approach to preparing for roles makes me think he’d be a fine sociologist! I was so impressed that he read Engles for North and South 🙂


  4. @skully,

    As in Friedrich Engels?


  5. Yeah, he mentions in the N&S interview that he read some of Engels. (Condition of the Working Class in England.) This is a very interesting read, esp. the section on Manchester. (And I can’t resist saying, if you find this interesting you will also enjoy George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier).


  6. […] am lacking in important qualities of the good professor — patience, discipline, consistency. I’ve whined in the past about some of my failings, revealing others in the process. All of these positive traits have to be trained and added to Dr. […]


  7. […] Drive to work, park, buy a coffee, walk to office. Work, teach, prepare, counsel students, write, grade, administer, with occasional breaks for food. Talk to mom on the phone. When all the crises are […]


  8. […] best thing, I realized today, is that I’m done with prophylactic grading, which is the hardest. You know what I mean: the grading done not only to assign scores, but also […]


  9. […] of almost everything else. Yesterday was Purim and I had kids to go with and didn’t even go. It’s not my favorite thing, but my neuroses around it are deepening, unfortunately. Anyway, it’s done for a few days. […]


  10. […] Grading is pressing. This is an obligation to students that often nearly shuts me down. Self-encouragement is necessary. I shut the browser windows and open some pictures in preview. […]


  11. […] overcome my fear of water; that I haven’t found a place of rapprochement with my father. That I can’t grade faster and that my energy is insufficient to change the world even just the little bit that I’d like […]


  12. […] Drive to work, park, buy a coffee, walk to office. Work, teach, prepare, counsel students, write, grade, administer, with occasional breaks for food. Talk to mom on the phone. When all the crises are […]


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