Saturday, September 03, 2016

Scheduled up, scheduled out

My teaching schedule is the worst I've had in a decade.

I was prepared to suck up the MWF part--it is, after all, my turn to suck it up--and with two classes scheduled back-to-back in the mid and late afternoon it seemed like it might be okay. But then one of my classes didn't make, and the only reasonable class I could swap into was at 9 a.m. And if a three-day-a-week 9 a.m. class is pretty bad, a three-day-a-week 9 a.m. class followed by MORE THAN FOUR AND A HALF HOURS OF DEAD TIME is just about the worst thing I can imagine.

Actually, scratch that: the worst thing I can imagine is all of the above at an institution that has a Tuesday/Thursday common hour--a period when no classes are scheduled but alllll meetings for university business are. Meaning that, when you have a MWF schedule, you can expect to be on campus four or five days out of five.*

Needless to say, I'm disgruntled.**

But both because there's no help for it and because I find a certain amount of structure salutary, I've decided that the only solution is to schedule my work-week within an inch of its life. Last semester, when I was traveling every week and doing a graduate seminar's worth of reading on top of my regular job, I kept my shit together by laying out a clear schedule for exactly what happened when, Monday through Friday. (Then I returned on Saturday, collapsed, and did nothing for a day and a half.)

This semester won't demand that kind of scheduling, but I think it needs it: I've got a few too many plates spinning in my writing life and I've never been great at keeping multiple projects going simultaneously. Moreover, though I have a couple of hard deadlines, most of my projects are either long-term and ongoing, things no one else is checking up on, or both.

So I have a two-part plan. Because my natural preference is to focus intensively on just one thing at a time--especially if that thing is writing, reading, or grading--I need a schedule that designates and protects discrete chunks of time rather than just hoping they happen. This means corralling my shorter or more interruptible tasks into my less-productive on-campus hours (and using my least productive hours to run errands and the like).

The Schedule

Monday / Wednesday / Friday
During that huge chunk of time--almost fourteen hours!--I do all my course reading and prep (luckily, these are relatively low-prep classes) and handle administrivia. I also work on the edition for an hour or two each day.

When I get home at 5, I take advantage of the fact that I'm brain-dead but upright and go to the gym.

After any meetings, I work at home, reading/researching if I need it, writing if I don't.

After any meetings, I go to the art museum library and write for four or five hours.

On weeks when papers are due, I can also squeeze in 3-4 hours of focused grading time on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Absolutely nothing related to teaching. Ideally I'll write/read for two or three hours in a low-key way, with the rest as leisure.

No work of any sort until 2 or 3 (we go to Mass, have brunch, read the Times). After that I might write or read for a couple of hours--or I might just take the whole day off.

One of the goals is to make weekends low-key and pleasurable, working only when and if I feel like it, on things that are sustaining--rather than feeling as if there's always something I ought to be doing.

The Log

In addition to this schedule, I've started to keep a work diary for my writing/scholarship, logging, each day, roughly how many hours I spend doing what on which projects. Again, the aim isn't to feel guilty, but the opposite: to notice and appreciate progress over time (especially on long-term projects, or projects without deadlines, or those, like the edition, where it's tough to see forward momentum because it doesn't manifest itself in word or page counts). I also hope this will be an effective way for me to remember to keep checking in on all my different projects rather than working on just one--until a deadline approaches and I panic and have to drop it for six weeks to finish something else.

This kind of itemization might stress some people out, but in the past I've found it tremendously reassuring to be able to point to concrete accomplishments--that I spent six hours proofreading textual notes, or wrote 1,500 new words, or read eight articles, or whatever. Armed with that evidence, I can feel justified in taking a day or two off. Without it, I tend to have only the haziest sense of what I've done, and it never feels like enough.


I'll let you know how it goes. So far, the only thing that's proving hard is the part where I get up at 7 a.m. three days a week. That part is going very poorly indeed.

*And seriously, this is moronic. At my previous job, the English department set a Wednesday period aside for all department and committee meetings, on the principle that MWF faculty shouldn't have to come in for a fourth day when TTh faculty could just come in for a third.

**And yes, yes, I know: most jobs in the world are five days a week and nine to five and blah blah--but as one friend put it, academic labor is so intense, inflexible, and all-consuming that one of the compensations is the ability to schedule at least some of it as we like. So yeah, you get to sleep until 9. . . in exchange for teaching night classes. You get a four day weekend. . . but more than half of it is spent grading. (As the joke goes, you get to choose which sixty hours a week you want to work.)


Comradde PhysioProffe said...

One of my most valued professional privileges is near absolute control over my schedule. I do essentially zero classroom teaching, and I have the power to say no to administrative meeting times I don't like without explaining myself.

Flavia said...



At both my jobs, my departments have done a pretty good job of accommodating everyone's teaching preferences, but at my previous institution we had a larger faculty, so everyone just about always got exactly the schedule they wanted (it just worked out that enough people preferred times other people didn't. . . which means not only that I've rarely taught before 11, but that I haven't even taught MWF, at any hour, in eleven years).

The other big perk is control over the work itself--which courses I teach (within reason) and what I do on a daily, weekly, or semesterly basis in the classroom (almost total). And obviously this goes doubly or triply for research.

undine said...

"go to the art museum library and write for 4-5 hours" sounds pretty great. I've been going to the plain library for this purpose, and it helps.

Sapience said...

As the new person in the department, and because the schedule was made before I was even hired, I have a 5 day teaching schedule: two classes MWF, two classes T/Th. All my classes are morning classes except for one, while our department and university and other meetings are all late afternoon meetings. It's pretty brutal this semester, especially with three new preps. The only good thing about this schedule is that at least both my comp courses are MWF and my two lit classes are T/Th.

Flavia said...


Yep: the new person always gets the short end of the stick--that's a universal truth! (I do know people who prefer MTWThF, but usually that's because they can arrange it so they're only on campus for a couple/few hours each day--and if they have kids and live close to campus, that can be better than being gone for 13 hours twice a week, which I prefer.)

And since this post is apparently attracting comments elsewhere on the internet to the effect that this really isn't such an awful schedule, relative to what contingent faculty experience: of course not! I myself taught 4/4 when I was contingent faculty (which still isn't as onerous as what some others teach, whether on or off the tenure track). The intent of this post is to think through the ways one can make the best of whatever schedule one has.

Anonymous said...

A 4-5 day a week schedule is the worst you can imagine?

I would submit to you that you have a limited imagination.

The worst could be no job, with no prospects of employment.

The reality of the academic world is that it is changing. Society doesn't value the cloistered academic the way we would like them to. That's the truth. State and federal resources are becoming more limited. And it has always been that way. Ancient scholars and philosophers worked for their sponsors, who often had the literal power of life and death over them.

In the meantime, reconsider your position. Spend your time on campus engaging with your peers, your students, and your institution. Take solace that you can still close your office door, listen to music or sip a hot beverage, and think. There are laborers out in the world with none of those job benefits.

Flavia said...


It seems that you read neither my previous comment, nor the post itself with any attention, if you believe this post to be primarily about my griping and self-pity.

But it's thoughtful of you to drop by and take the time to share your misreading and self-righteousness, anonymously, with someone whose blog you have apparently never read, if you believe me to be disengaged from and disinterested in my colleagues and students. Cheers.

Doc said...

I'm confused by your complaint, but I think it's because I do not know the type of appointment(s) you have this year. I am a new blog reader, and I see in your profile that you are an Associate Professor, but I get the impression you work at two different schools. Could you clarify?

I cannot relate to your complaint. I am a tenured Assoc. Prof at a PUI where I teach 4-and-4 schedule and do research on top of my teaching load. I never have control over my teaching load. This semester I teach three days per week, but my schedule keeps me on campus from 8am to 8pm each of those days. I still come to work on Monday and Friday to be available to my research students, write papers, submit grands. The idea of doing no work on a Saturday is laughable for me. Maybe you should tell me about your appointment(s) so that I can look for your type of job, because right now it seems like heaven!

Flavia said...

Hi Doc, and thanks for asking (and for engaging in what I am taking to be an open and friendly way).

I think what you, Anon, and the people who linked to this post in a hostile way are finding objectionable is at least partly due to lack of familiarity with its tone and persona. One of my modes is a slightly over-the-top tone of vexation and complaint, which is meant to be at least partly self-mocking (oh my God! This is THE WORST THING EVER! I hate everyone!). We all say things like that to our friends, but I can understand why it would be a turn-off to people who don't know me and who are encountering this post in isolation and with no familiarity with what I've written elsewhere about teaching, the job market, academic labor, and the rest.

I've recently moved to my third full-time job, which carries a 2-3 load (the cushiest I've ever had, and nothing I'm taking for granted!). I teach at a big urban commuter school that serves a population that is overwhelmingly first-generation, including a large number of students who are minorities, foreign-born, or from immigrant households. I adore my students and I put a lot of energy into teaching. At the same time, my institution is an R2, and I have some significant research pressures.

All this makes me extremely privileged: the fact that I have a tenure-line job at all, and then the fact that it's one that carries such a light teaching load. And if that makes me, to some people, automatically unrelatable and easily dismissed as as clueless about conditions of employment for the majority of academics today--well, I understand that position, and though I think it isn't the full truth, I'm happy for those who find me appalling not to read me. But as I've written many times, the corporatized, casualized academy affects everyone, even those with my privilege and even those much more privileged, and I think we benefit from being able to see the effects of those things up and down the food chain.

(Though I'm not saying this post does that! Seriously, this post is just a dumb accountability post about how I hope-hope-hope to manage my time this semester, which I'm unlikely to be able to fully carry out. But searching for posts with tags such as "the academy," "the academic job market," "collegiality," "teaching," and "student lives" will give a fuller sense of how I think about my job and the academy as a whole.)

This blog reflects my particular experience, and I hope that some readers find my perspective useful, including the way it's changed over time (I've been blogging for almost twelve years, through multiple runs at the job market and through all three of my full-time jobs). But I've never claimed to represent the whole of academia, or even to be typical of any segment of it.

Doc said...

Thank for replying! I did mean my comments to be open and engaging, as I am genuinely curious about the appointments and loads and such. I appreciate that you took the time to explain your position to me, and I do understand that you were being a little over-the-top, but now that I know it's your style, I will keep that in mind. I'll come back and peruse some more of your posts. Thank!

Anonymous said...

In the 70s, my college professors taught M-W-F or T-TH-S.

Nobody complained, and students studied on Friday nights instead of drinking.