Thursday, June 22, 2017

My 40-Hour Week

I was full time faculty, and I was tired, if I were to be completely honest. I could have conducted all that I taught without being fully awake, as though an automaton, and that was the best part of the day. Then there were the endless, pointless tasks and processes that departmental assistants and secretaries used to see to, that were suddenly my job. I have not even begun to mention the interminable grading, which made Sisyphus’ rock rolling seem like a picnic. My schedule changed every several weeks, and I’d have days off that coincided with no one else’s, during which I would watch television or haunt my house as though a ghost. No one else had time off in late September for a week and I would be too exhausted to do much. Yes, being full time faculty can be exhausting, even though work-week seems to be only 25 hours long. I worked non-stop, almost 60-hour weeks, but since I did most of that work at home, it did not “count.”

 I thought that was my lot in life; things could never change.I had been faculty almost all my working life until I was RIFed from my last faculty position and decided to walk out of the classroom. Even though I soul-searched extensively and it took me a long time, I have ended up not too far from the classroom: I coordinate a writing center.

However, my insistence on trotting away from the classroom has demanded many changes, so many, in fact, that my internal compasses are different, with unfamiliar directions and strange needles. I navigate by different constellations and I cannot even imagine the nature and composition of my new horizons.

If someone were to ask me what my daily duties are, I’d not have a clear answer. I coordinate. This means that I do whatever needs to be done, and that is a surprisingly large range. I began without any training, without a clue about what was expected from me, with no idea about how to do my job, let alone how to do it well. I had had no management training, did not know how to balance a budget, create a schedule from scratch, oversee staff, or how to troubleshoot or navigate online lab platforms. Even this LMS was not familiar to me. The only thing I really understood properly was the curriculum around which the writing center revolves.

It turns out that is anchor enough as the world whirled and stood on its axis. One of my major navigational tools is Excel, something my old self had steered clear of. In my old job, I had needed just a little screen to explore the world and sculpt it into material for class; now, I cannot work without my double screened computer, and yet the material resists sculpting. As faculty, I had despaired of meaningless paperwork and forms; now, I create forms and document meticulously. As faculty, I used to feel much put upon when asked to generate reports; now, I seek out training that would help me mine and analyze substantial chunks of data. As faculty, I had felt isolated on my side of the desk and had considered myself apart from the people I spent most of my work day with, students. Now, I work on team building exercises and conduct regular meetings to be as much a part of my staff and colleagues as I can. My 25-hour week used to cling on, follow me home, and eat into weekends and evenings, especially during exams; now, my 40-hour week, though tiring, ends when I leave my office. Now, exam weeks are the best, since most of the work of the semester is done and things begin to slow down. As faculty, I sought out creative ways of presenting the same material; now, I seek out recognizable formats for ever-changing information, for precedents that reassure.

Even the very rhythm of my work-seasons is different. The time between semesters, in my old life, was a time to reflect, calm down, gather threads and reweave. Now, the time between semesters is fraught with furious activity, as I race to organize over a hundred class orientations, update orientation folders to adjust to changes in online labs, juggle ever-changing requests for schedule changes, and see to a myriad of other tasks before the semester begins.

I do miss my students a great deal; I do miss talking about timeless stories and the many ways they can be interpreted; I do miss students discovering the beauty of the written word; I do miss treading well-loved, well-worn paths. I feel that I have aged suddenly and aged far; constant contact with the young had kept me believing in my own youth. Being a manager of sorts, on the other hand, does make one the grown-up. As faculty, one might be a figure of authority, but it is not a managerial position. Now, even though I have my office, I feel more like a juggler than a person with any authority.

All things considered, however, my office has grown on me. I have begun to slice and stash things into tables and sheets. Most importantly, I am learning to decode implications when anyone speaks to me. I am more aware that all conversation has a context, a subtext, and an agenda. This is changing the way I write my characters and what they say, when I indulge in my first love, writing stories.  

I am told that this job gets easier after a couple of years. That is my hope, to find a terra firma beneath my feet, so that these paths also feel well-trod to my hesitant steps. It is rare that one gets a chance to be reinvented in the exact middle of one’s expected life-time.

 It is my hope that this overhauling will assure me that there have been less roads not taken when, at last, I consider how my light is spent.


  1. Sanjukta ChatterjeeJune 22, 2017 at 9:49 PM

    So an upshot of this is you are now more organized???? Hallelujah!!!! Well written. I am glad you have discovered new avenues which always seem daunting at our age. You go, girl! Which means you now have "normal" vacation times and we xanmwet more often?

  2. I might be a more organized worker bee, but really , not really!!! Let me get a transplant before you answer your door to my knock!!!

  3. Thank you Shefali! I love teaching, but I do not have a choice and I am looking forward to move out of the classroom and in administration, ... or do something else in life.

    1. It certainly gives a different perspective of what happens in the classroom! I hope that you find your perfect job, Marius!

  4. Loved reading the change in your work life and experiences of different types of work. I enjoyed teaching and hated administration. I had to do both simultaneously and that was no fun. i am sure you will fit into your new role as a manager/an administrator.