Sunday, November 26, 2006

And what have you accomplished, little cricket?

It's almost December, the month that moves as fast as greased lightning, especially when you're out on the market. As it's nearing it's end, I've been thinking a lot about this past semester off from teaching. Pilgrim/Heretic had a post a while back on the subject of sabbaticals - should you take one semester at full pay or a full year at half pay, etc. As is P/H's wont, it was a very good post and the comments were very interesting - people writing in about their various sabbatical experiences, etc. It got me to reflecting on this past semester for me. Though the financial issues that are understandably part of a sabbatical decision do not apply to me at the moment, one of the big issues P/H and others brought up was productivity: would I be more productive with a semester or a year?

The big kicker is, of course, having a realistic goal of what you want to do with your time off - that varies according to person, what stage they are at in their career, etc. But as I've thought back on this "semester's sabbatical" of sorts that fell into my lap as a matter of circumstance, the first reaction is to think: "I could have done more! I should have done more!"

And this isn't a helpful way to begin the process - of course I could have done more. I could have worked a solid 9 hour day every day, for god's sakes. I would have to be insitutionalized afterwards, but I could have done it, I guess. And then comes the question: should I have done more? Hmmm...I don't really know. I can't bring myself to look at time being wasted in the same way that I can see money being wasted - I tend to think of my time usually being at least partially well spent, even if it's taking a nap or watching TV.

I began this semester with a set of goals, one of which was a truly ridiculous reading list. Have I finished it? Hell, no. But I've read some chunks of it; I've added to it; I'm cultivating it. Ultimately, I compiled it, which is helpful in and of itself.

Big thing I should have done (said in my best schoolteacher voice):
- Finish large portions of my book project? That's just unrealistic right now - we must crawl before we can walk. I have simply had other things to do - I have made progress on developing my project. I'm zeroing in on it. That's enough at this stage of my career, ma'am.

Things I have done, though:

1) Planned two new major classes, one *completely* from scratch. Now, this is something about our jobs that I think we sometimes overlook when we're tallying things up at the end of the day. This is time consuming and once it's done, you've got something that you will be drawing on for a long time to come. And once those lectures, powerpoint presentations, exams, paper topics, etc. are planned (a couple of which already are), there's even more of that work under your belt.

2) Revised and published one article; written an abstract for another. This pleases me, no doubt about it.

3) Moved to a new country and negotiated an new brand of bureaucracy. This was tedious on many levels. It's actually still going on with the University...

4) Totally revamped and re-written all my job materials. This was very time-consuming (revision, revision, revision) and fairly traumatizing - I'd rather send something in to a journal than a job committee any day! But when all was said and done, it was part and parcel of zeroing in on my project, reflecting about where I am right now work-wise, etc. I feel as though I am representing myself, not just well with this material, but accurately - i.e., it's a very thorough representation of me as a scholar, as a teacher, etc. This might sound underwhelming - should I really be trying to represent myself as I am rather than as exactly what they want me to be? - the answer is: yes. That seems obvious, but it's not to most of us out on the market. It's a subtle thing to "pitch" one's project to the largest number of people without literally pitching it out the window. This sounds hokey, but I feel very pleased with the way my materials turned out, and that hasn't always been the case. It was worth the time and the effort.

I don't write this post to toot my own horn in an annoying way, but to offer up some picture of how I've begun looking at this gift of several months off. A lot has happened, and I've done some good work. I've also taken many days off and watched some TV, putted around, and done nothing. I will have very little down time next semester, so I'll look back on those lazy days fondly. Fortunately, I don't look back on any one goal and say, "well, you totally failed to do that completely reasonable thing!"

For me right now, I think this is the definition of a good sabbatical...I didn't do everything, but I did do something.



At 4:52 PM, Blogger Hilaire said...

I think this is a great post. YOu're so right to break it down and look at what you *have* accomplished. And I think your point about the way we underplay our work in course design is so important - that's crucial work...and often, crucial to our own development as thinkers and researchers, I think. Also, you're so right to see this as a time to catch your breath before the craziness that is next term...

At 5:12 PM, Blogger medieval woman said...

hee, hee - Hilaire, you're definitely implicated in my successful course planning! Folks, she's GREAT at that!! :)

Thanks large, H!!

At 6:29 PM, Anonymous What Now? said...

Sounds like a great sabbatical. I'm in the same position of having a "sort of" sabbatical, and your post has given me a lot to think about in assessing my own productivity or lack thereof this term.

At 9:45 PM, Blogger Flavia said...

I think it's fantastic that you feel you've represented yourself accurately in your job materials, and to me that's a real sign of professional maturity and self-confidence--that you're neither fudging the facts, nor feeling inadequate (two things that, of course, can often go together when it comes to assembling job materials!).

This is where I think it's really beneficial to be a job-market veteran: by now, you *have* taught a goodly number of classes, and had publications accepted, and moved out of the thick of your dissertation. It's no longer all speculative and hopeful and written with fingers crossed behind your back.


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