TITLE: Admin Pushing Teaching to the Side
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: January 08, 2008 5:05 PM
I have always liked the week before classes start for a
new semester. There is a freshness to a new classroom
of students, a new group of minds, a new set of lectures
and assignments. Of course, most of these aren't really
new. Many of my students this semester will have had
me for class before, and most semesters I teach a course
I've taught before, reusing at least some of the materials
and ideas from previous offerings. Yet the combination
is fresh, and there is a sense of possibility. I liked
this feeling as a student, and I like it as a prof. It
is one of the main reasons that I have always preferred
a quarter system to a semester system: more new beginnings.
Since becoming department head, the joy is muted somewhat.
For one thing, I teach one course instead of three, and
instead of taking five. Another is that this first week
is full of administrivia. There are graduate assistantship
assignments to prepare, lab schedules to produce, last-chance
registration sessions to run. Paperwork to be completed.
These aren't the sort of tasks that can be easily
automated or delegated or shoved aside. So they capture
mindshare -- and time.
This week I have had two other admin-related items on my
to-do list. First is an all-day faculty retreat my
department is having later this week. The faculty actually
chose to get together for what is in effect an extended
meeting, to discuss the sort of issues that can't be
discussed very easily during periodic meetings during the
semester, which are both too short for deep discussion and
too much dominated by short-term demands and deadlines.
As strange as it sounds, I am looking forward to the
opportunity to talk with my colleagues about the future of
our department and about some concrete
we can take to move in the desired direction. There is
always a chance that retreats like this can fall flat, and
I bear some responsibility in trying to avoid that outcome,
but as a group I think we can chart a strong course. One
good side effect is that we will go off campus for a day
and get away from the same old buildings and rooms that
will fill our senses for much of the next sixteen weeks.
Second is the dean's announcement of my third-year review.
Department heads here are reviewed periodically, typically
every five years. I came into this position after a
couple of less-than-ideal experiences for most of the
faculty, so I am on a 3-year term. This will be similar
to the traditional end-of-the-term student evaluations,
only done by faculty of an administrator. In some ways,
faculty can be much sharper critics than students. They
have a lot of experience and a lot of expectations about
how a department should be run. They are less likely to
"be polite" out of habits learned as a child. I've been
a faculty member and do recall how picky I was at times.
And this evaluation will drag out for longer than a few
minutes at the end of one class period, so I have many
take a big risk
inadvertently. I'm not likely to pander, though; that's
not my style.
I'm not all that worried. The summative part of the evaluation
-- the part that judges how well I have done the job I'm
assigned to do -- is an essential part of the dean determining
whether he would like for me to continue. While it's rarely
fun to receive criticism, it's part of life. I care what the
faculty think about my performance so far, flawed as we all
know it's been. Their feedback will play a large role in my
determining whether I would like for me to continue
in this capacity. The formative part of the evaluation -- the
part that gives me feedback on how I can do my job better --
is actually something I look forward to. Participating in
writers' workshops at
long ago helped me to appreciate the value of suggestions
for improvement. Sometimes they merely confirm what we
already suspect, and that is valuable. Other times they
communicate a possible incremental improvement, and that is
valuable. At other times still they open doors that we did
not even know were available, and that is really valuable.
I just hope that
isn't the sort of finding that comes out of the evaluation.
Though I suppose that that would be valuable in its own way!