Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dead or Alive?

On the fifth day before Christmas, my academic department gave to me a teaching dilemma. The subtleties, vagaries, and political scramblings involved in teaching appointments in said department are many and maddening, and I will not go into them here. I suspect they are little different than those found elsewhere. (The problems with these things is that they always feel incredibly personal when they often are not.) Let it suffice to say that I'm left to choose between teaching a class referred to as "Dead" because of its lack of live lectures, and one that is live.

The horns of this dilemma, I'm afraid, are that it forces a choice between teaching and my own research on one horn and my CV and my time on the other. Neither choice is, I'm afraid, ideal or even particularly inspiring, and I'm trying to put my disappointment about that aside in order to make a good decision. That said, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. They are as follows:

Dead: This web-based course will allow me oodles more time. It involves teaching a lot of first-year students, and I do love them. I enjoy the teaching challenges and possibilities that come with first-years, and I love the earnest cluelessness that they bring to the table. The disadvantage is that I have taught the class before, will interact with exactly no-one in the department (a problem for me), and will have to do more grading and managing of the assignments and syllabus.

Live: I'll have the opportunity to work with a professor I don't know on a time period I love but teach little. The interwar years are just way too much fun for a cultural historian, and I'd love to engage with the material in the classroom. It is not, however, a cultural history class. I'll work with older students, who are challenging and rewarding in their own way. The disadvantages are that I'll have little control over the class or syllabus, which involves a lot of reading that is, um, traditional. (I'm often not.) The class doesn't have a great reputation, but it's not so horrible that I'm cringing at the thought.

I love teaching enough that the right choice is actually crucial to my grad student health. If I'm teaching a class I enjoy, I'm more likely to be energized by the teaching assignment and productive in other areas. I also need to consider the fact that the last time I taught, I was lecturing my own course. I miss lecturing. I miss planning class, the incredible physical high of actually delivering the lecture, the rewards of seeing my own goals for the class come to fruition. These are the rewards of teaching your own course. They are not the rewards of TAing one. I'll somehow have to manage my own expectations for what I can do and what the class can do if I hope to have a successful semester at all.

This entire decision has really emphasized for me the way that an academic career will consistently force me to choose between my own interests as a reseacher and my interests as a teacher. I'd love the ideal assignment that combines time with rewarding opportunities to engage in the material and a new line on the CV. (What? It's Christmas! A girl can dream!) Since that's not going to happen, I'm left trying to balance my teaching and my research. It's a balancing act I expect to face my entire career. I feel a bit like I'm in one of the endurance challenges on Survivor: If I stand on a barrel bobbing in high tide with an apple in one hand and a book in the other, how long can I hold onto both before one goes into the ocean? If the book is mine alone and the apple what my tribe will eat for the next five months, will I hold one more tightly than the other? Will the book inevitably fall? Will the apple eventually rot? Will I jump in the ocean, taking the book and the apple with me to some watery grave? Anything feels possible.


Blogger Xtin said...

You're not on a barrel, you're on a surfboard, and you're balancing just fine. Indeed, we are all astounded by your grace and daredevilishness.

In addition to delicate trade-off decisions, academics also develop expertise in barely informed opinionatedness. So here is mine: take the Dead.

I'd have gone for the Live every time, except that you said that you won't have control over the content much. Dealbreaker. It is not worth the massive investment of extra time and energy if you are trapped by someone else's agenda (honourable though that agenda may be). Although, I hear you on the transporting euphoria of actually lecturing.


6:24 AM  
Blogger Acre said...

The more I think about it, the more I think the deciding factor is going to be the increased interaction with colleagues that Live will bring. Feeling isolated is not good for me, and Dead is as isolated as it gets.

Still, not having to attend lectures and having content control has major advantages. So yep, hmmm.

(And thanks for the input!)

7:45 AM  

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