Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Part 2.3: Teaching while in Graduate School

One question that was on all of our minds during the "Issues in Pedagogy" session was how to balance teaching with graduate work. It certainly complicates an already complicated experience. How do you budget time for graduate work when you always have grading on your desk, syllabus revision on your mind, and student emails in your inbox?

1) Time Management - this sounds too simplistic for two such time-demanding activities as teaching and graduate school, but it really does help to set management parameters for yourself. When your work is never done (and as a teacher/grad student it never is) how do you maintain your sanity or accomplish anything on time? If you are like most of us, you have a "teacher" head-space and a "conference/writing" head-space. We discussed how it might be helpful to organize time for these two spaces. Granted, it is hard to allot time to writing when you have grading that you must do, but it is important. For example, one of our speakers limits looking at drafts to office hours. A few participants limit all teaching work to "business hours" so that they have time for life necessities like laundry and speaking to other adults. One piece of advice: use weekends and breaks carefully. It is extremely tempting to stop working altogether on breaks and weekends since you are so tired of work when you get to that point, but juggling two full-time jobs requires some persistence and organization, especially in Summer. This time period is important for the graduate student, and you want to make as much of it as you can. Learn your own habits. Do you work best in the morning/afternoon/evening? How many papers can you grade at one time before you go "paper blind"? For your graduate work, you also have to know what kind of student/writer you are. Some people work best with time limits, some with page/word limits per day - use this information to keep yourself on track. Also check out this helpful guide to graduate student time management.

2) Boundaries - after you have set some boundaries for yourself, put some effort into setting them with your students. It is tempting to answer student emails right away to get them off your desk, but you could unwittingly establish that you are available to your students at all hours (a hard thing when it turns out that you are not). Consider your time as valuable - work out a way to penalize no-shows to office hours and late work (if you allow it at all). Once I had a student who sent inappropriately long and chatty emails to me almost every day - eventually I had to ask the student to stop because I simply did not have the time to read those emails and dig out the important question. You certainly do not want to be unapproachable, but keep in mind that your time is valuable.

3) Goals - When teaching it is often all too easy to let your goals fall by the wayside because of the demands on your time. Try to establish solid deadlines and goals with an adviser or mentor to help with accountability. Set group goals with your colleagues if that helps (for example, I know some grad students who apply to conferences together). Remember that you do have writing to do, conferences to apply to, and other professional goals on your plate - and that these should have designated time/head-space.

4) Be Realistic - as confident and organized as you can be, you have to realize that as a teacher there will be periods where even your most careful plans will drop off (and that this is okay) - namely November and the two first weeks of December for the fall term, and the last half of April/first week of May in the spring term. Make up for these periods during the breaks if you can, but go easy on yourself - this is part of the juggle act.

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