Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Say Howdy to Mildred From Medicine Hat, Another "Regular." (Those Looking for Walt's 2nd of 30 Promised Posts Will Have to Wait...and Wait.)

I have pondered long and hard on what to write about in my first post as an RYS "Regular." (Deeply honoured, etc etc.)

There are the students, but y'all have that subject so nicely covered already that I have very little to say there. I visit this site every day for my daily dose of smackdown. It makes my whole day. I get from RYS the same kind of satisfaction we all get from watching Nanny 9-1-1 - however bad your children are they are never within an order of magnitude as bad as the little monsters on that show. And no matter how bad my students get, they are never (so far, knock wood) nearly as bad as the weasels I read about here.

I teach in a public institution, and we don't get many rich entitled brats whose Daddy built the west wing of the library. We don't have a medical school so we're missing most of the rotten little cheaters, too. The Dean will back me up all the way if I nail a plagiarist to the wall or fail some slacker's sorry ass. And the students don't complain about it. If they don't do the work, they expect to fail. It's an agreement we have.

So I come to this site for relief. No matter how bad my day has been, I can guarantee that some correspondent on RYS has had a far, far worse one. Sure, my students are frequently lazy little swine with sloppy citation habits. Compared to what I read about here? Big effing deal.

And there's another way I can't complain. I have tenure. If I have a bad class or a journal bounces an article or (to be frank) the article bogs down and never actually gets out the door in the first place, it gets me down, but it doesn't get me a job at Wal-Mart. I don't lie awake at night terrified, the way, you know, I did, before the faculty voted to keep me on. I don't have the rash covering 3/4 of my body that I had for six months before that vote. I don't live in my stress counsellor's office anymore, though I still see her every month on general principles.

So what do I have to complain about? Well, here's the subject I want to raise to RYS. Can we have a career and a life both or am I just kidding myself? And is it harder for female academics? Should I just quit trying?

A friend of mine quit her TT job a few years back. Like me, she had 2 small children, and was juggling the teaching and the research and the book-writing and the committees and the child care and home-making and sure, she had a very supportive husband and all that. But she finally decided she'd had it. Her explanation was simple. Teaching is a full-time job; research is a full-time job; and motherhood his a full-time job. And she could handle two full-time jobs but she couldn't handle three.

I tried to talk her out of it. She ignored me and I think she was probably right. I had tenure by then and the picture was different for me. But ...

But my friend is right. Teaching is a full-time job. Parenting is a full-time job. Research is a full-time job. And I can't handle three full-time jobs either.

I teach 3 x 2 and I have 2 primary-school-aged children. My husband is out of the country this week and so far this weekend I've produced 6 meals, done 5 loads of laundry, arranged for the plumber to come to fix various essential fixtures in the only 45-minute period I can manage to be home to let him in tomorrow, escorted children to three events not counting the 2 hours I spent sitting in a medical clinic with one of them, gotten partway through sending the invitations for a birthday party next weekend, overseen their piano practicing and spelling drills, dragged a mutinous 8-year-old through math homework, an exhausting 90-minute effort, made sure they had everything together for school tomorrow, chased them into bed, packed 2 lunches, made a pan of rice krispie treats and morosely ate about half of them myself, and cleaned the kitchen again (and again and again). It wasn't until 11:00 at night that I could look at my to-do list for tomorrow.

The to-do list for tomorrow includes grading 150 quizzes, 20 papers, preparing a graduate seminar, 8 or 9 emails from students with drafts of papers (I'm assuming) that I'm avoiding opening, hell, everyone here can fill in this part; we're all slogging in the same trenches and it's the same point in term for us all. But I have no idea how I can get any of it done.

To say nothing of the research I'm not doing.

Since I had my second child, I have not published anything new at all. A couple of new things have come out, but they were things I'd done the research for and in fact drafted before I went into labour the second time. I've done nothing new. And yes, I could. I could somehow find the time.

But you know, I'm so exhausted I can barely think at all. It's hard for me to believe I've got anything worth saying, about anything.

On my worst days I wonder if I should quit so the university can hire someone who's actually willing to do the work I'm getting paid for and not producing. Two things stop me. My department might not get to replace my position, or not immediately. And I'm not a bad teacher. I'm often a pretty good one. My students are getting something out of my being there. Though they would get more if I were doing any research at all, a small voice reminds me.

Now of course I'm not going to quit. I haven't won any lotteries lately. But has anyone got any ideas how to manage this mythical life/work balance? Or this life/teaching/research balance?

Me, I'm going to ignore the papers and quizzes and go to bed, again. Selfishly putting my desire for sleep ahead of my student's need for feedback, I know. But my eyes are practically crossing with fatigue and there is an actual, physical, limit.

I'm not exactly a poster child for "hire a mother" I know. But what the hell am I supposed to do?