Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Six Years Ago. From Mildred. By Request.

November 18th, 2008

I have pondered long and hard on what to write about in my first post as an RYS "Regular." (Deeply honoured, etc etc.)

There are the students, but y'all have that subject so nicely covered already that I have very little to say there. I visit this site every day for my daily dose of smackdown. It makes my whole day. I get from RYS the same kind of satisfaction we all get from watching Nanny 9-1-1 - however bad your children are they are never within an order of magnitude as bad as the little monsters on that show. And no matter how bad my students get, they are never (so far, knock wood) nearly as bad as the weasels I read about here.

I teach in a public institution, and we don't get many rich entitled brats whose Daddy built the west wing of the library. We don't have a medical school so we're missing most of the rotten little cheaters, too. The Dean will back me up all the way if I nail a plagiarist to the wall or fail some slacker's sorry ass. And the students don't complain about it. If they don't do the work, they expect to fail. It's an agreement we have.

So I come to this site for relief. No matter how bad my day has been, I can guarantee that some correspondent on RYS has had a far, far worse one. Sure, my students are frequently lazy little swine with sloppy citation habits. Compared to what I read about here? Big effing deal.

And there's another way I can't complain. I have tenure. If I have a bad class or a journal bounces an article or (to be frank) the article bogs down and never actually gets out the door in the first place, it gets me down, but it doesn't get me a job at Wal-Mart. I don't lie awake at night terrified, the way, you know, I did, before the faculty voted to keep me on. I don't have the rash covering 3/4 of my body that I had for six months before that vote. I don't live in my stress counsellor's office anymore, though I still see her every month on general principles.

So what do I have to complain about? Well, here's the subject I want to raise to RYS. Can we have a career and a life both or am I just kidding myself? And is it harder for female academics? Should I just quit trying?

A friend of mine quit her TT job a few years back. Like me, she had 2 small children, and was juggling the teaching and the research and the book-writing and the committees and the child care and home-making and sure, she had a very supportive husband and all that. But she finally decided she'd had it. Her explanation was simple. Teaching is a full-time job; research is a full-time job; and motherhood his a full-time job. And she could handle two full-time jobs but she couldn't handle three.

I tried to talk her out of it. She ignored me and I think she was probably right. I had tenure by then and the picture was different for me. But ...

But my friend is right. Teaching is a full-time job. Parenting is a full-time job. Research is a full-time job. And I can't handle three full-time jobs either.

I teach 3 x 2 and I have 2 primary-school-aged children. My husband is out of the country this week and so far this weekend I've produced 6 meals, done 5 loads of laundry, arranged for the plumber to come to fix various essential fixtures in the only 45-minute period I can manage to be home to let him in tomorrow, escorted children to three events not counting the 2 hours I spent sitting in a medical clinic with one of them, gotten partway through sending the invitations for a birthday party next weekend, overseen their piano practicing and spelling drills, dragged a mutinous 8-year-old through math homework, an exhausting 90-minute effort, made sure they had everything together for school tomorrow, chased them into bed, packed 2 lunches, made a pan of rice krispie treats and morosely ate about half of them myself, and cleaned the kitchen again (and again and again). It wasn't until 11:00 at night that I could look at my to-do list for tomorrow.

The to-do list for tomorrow includes grading 150 quizzes, 20 papers, preparing a graduate seminar, 8 or 9 emails from students with drafts of papers (I'm assuming) that I'm avoiding opening, hell, everyone here can fill in this part; we're all slogging in the same trenches and it's the same point in term for us all. But I have no idea how I can get any of it done.

To say nothing of the research I'm not doing.

Since I had my second child, I have not published anything new at all. A couple of new things have come out, but they were things I'd done the research for and in fact drafted before I went into labour the second time. I've done nothing new. And yes, I could. I could somehow find the time.

But you know, I'm so exhausted I can barely think at all. It's hard for me to believe I've got anything worth saying, about anything.

On my worst days I wonder if I should quit so the university can hire someone who's actually willing to do the work I'm getting paid for and not producing. Two things stop me. My department might not get to replace my position, or not immediately. And I'm not a bad teacher. I'm often a pretty good one. My students are getting something out of my being there. Though they would get more if I were doing any research at all, a small voice reminds me.

Now of course I'm not going to quit. I haven't won any lotteries lately. But has anyone got any ideas how to manage this mythical life/work balance? Or this life/teaching/research balance?

Me, I'm going to ignore the papers and quizzes and go to bed, again. Selfishly putting my desire for sleep ahead of my student's need for feedback, I know. But my eyes are practically crossing with fatigue and there is an actual, physical, limit.

I'm not exactly a poster child for "hire a mother" I know. But what the hell am I supposed to do?


  1. Soo . . . "has anyone got any ideas how to manage this mythical life/work balance?"

    I'm a grad student. I do pretty well with my publishing right now, if I may say so. But my teaching and service responsibilities are much lighter than they would be in a TT job--and there are _still_ weeks when the house is dirty, the relatives don't get a phone call and no one eats a vegetable. Spouse and I plan on procreating once I get a job, but the logistics get scarier to me the closer that reality approaches.

  2. I also have a question-do male academics suffer from the same work-life balance issues? I don't hear about them from my male colleagues, but I don't want to assume this is primarily a female issue. I have struggled with this and I have no kids. I have no idea how my colleagues with kids do it. My CC has a 5-5 load (and most of us work a 6-6) so while we don't have research requirements, we teach and grade A LOT. Plus all the BS college service, professional development, community service and advising.

    I think one issue for women is to stop beating ourselves up for not doing everything perfectly. Mildred worried she wasn't doing enough in her job. I'm guessing she is doing plenty, but because she can't do it all, all the time, at an "A" level she feels she shouldn't do it at all. On one hand, that is commendable, most of us probably have a pretty good work ethic and half-assing it or "good enough" isn't how we want to function in our professional or personal lives. That being said, there are lots of times when "good enough" really is just fine.

    As I have mentioned in other posts, I have had a major health issue this year, and let me tell you that made me take "work-life balance" way more seriously. One, because I (and really no one) can live in a chronic stress-infused stated for a long period of time without paying the consequences. Two, since none of us know how much time we truly have left, do you really want to spend MORE TIME grading? Doing committee work? Now, these things are part of our jobs and we have to do them, and hopefully do them reasonably well, but where are the places in your work (and personal life) where you can say 'NO." Sometimes we just need to be more aware of what we are doing and whether or not that is helping or hurting us.

    One thing I have learned is to not be too efficient. Doing work well and fast only gets you one thing, more work. I am strategic about sending and replying to emails as well as sending forward assessment or committee work. In the classroom I have made some changes so that I don't die every semester. Some things can be automated with the LMS so that students still get feedback (online quizzes) but I don't have to hand grade 120 of them.
    But like I said, I don't have kids, that is truly another full time job and how you balance that without the anxiety and guilt, I will never know.

  3. "and there are _still_ weeks when the house is dirty, the relatives don't get a phone call and no one eats a vegetable. "

    Oh, yeah. Been there. Still there. When my kids were small and my in-laws old and infirm, and I was in grad school or on the tenure track, I often felt as if every day was an exercise in triage. Who should I let down the least today? It's easier now that the kids are mostly grown, my in-laws gone, and my tenure secure, but that's no help to the younger MIldreds and Kates and Charlotte Anns.

    I had a long, well-crafted response that disappeared when I tried to publish it. Some of my main points agree with Charlotte Ann: "good enough" is a healthy goal, health is more important than work, saying "NO" is essential, and strategic planning of service work and class assignments can reduce the workload responsibly.

    Some other ideas:

    1. Hire help as soon as you can. With my first full-time paycheck, I hired a weekly cleaning service. If I could afford more, I'd do it. They need the work, and I need the time.

    2. Lower your standards for housework and holiday traditions. Figure out what you can't live without (made beds? clean toilets? cookies from scratch?) and accept that you won't do other things (folding socks? dusting shelves? sending Christmas cards?).

    3. Don't worry too much about getting grades back immediately. Yes, that would be the best practice. But as a wise colleague told me, "they'll complain no matter how fast you grade them. It's never fast enough, so get your sleep."

    4. If you have a choice about where to teach, seriously consider JCs or state colleges rather than publish-or-perish universities. As Mildred said, teaching is a full-time job. Research is a full-time job. Being a parent is a full-time job. Reducing the research side is one approach.*

    In grad school I was a promising, award-winning, grant-getting researcher. Future was so bright, I had to wear shades. Then it became clear that hubby wouldn't move no matter where I got a job. His job was secure and had medical benefits, and we had kids and were near their grandparents. I resigned myself to JC teaching and then came to relish not having to compete for grants and deal with the multitude of deadlines and interim reports for funding agencies. I was still engaged in triage, but less so than if I'd had my dream career.

    *Sorry, Frod, the Cal State Univ. system does require less research than the U of C system. Kudos to you for continuing to be more fully engaged in research than necessary. By the way, what about your work/life balance regarding housework, cooking, and child care?

    1. Hey, why does a finger get pointed at me? Succinctly, hundred-hour weeks are not unusual for me. This makes me look, feel, and smell great, particularly after a really heavy dose. Having no kids also helps.

  4. Sorry, not considering you as a stand-in for all men. It's just that you've been talking about your research program and have ID'd yourself as teaching at Fresno State, and here I was saying that state colleges have lower expectations for faculty research than R-whatever universities.

    Having no kids -- that's a big part of the answer. Can we hear from our male colleagues who are fathers? How much is work/life balance an issue for others?