Monday, August 24, 2009

My First Non-Academic Fall

This is the first fall since 1996 that I haven't been getting ready to attend or teach class. Right now, I'm actually at the beach, enjoying a final vacation with my father, stepmother, stepbrother, and of course, the kids and Mr. Geeky. Mr. Geeky is having to do some work here, since classes begin for him the day after we return. The kids have another week.

Aeron Haynie writes about returning to school post sabbatical and how relaxing her year without school was. This summer was the first summer I wasn't directing a program, making my summer more stressful than the school year. I have enjoyed so much spending time with my kids this summer. We have played games, gone to the pool and gone on a few trips. But in general, we've just hung out and let the days roll over us, enjoying the completely unplanned time. I may never get another summer like this.

There are things I miss about working in an academic environment, especially teaching. I love planning new classes, imagining student reactions to readings, thinking of ways to engage them in topics. I love classroom discussions from which I usually learn as much as the students. I love connecting with students, helping them not only with the coursework, but sometimes with their career planning and their life. I don't miss grading. And I don't miss what Haynie so aptly describes as the competitive environment of the academy:
For me at least, academic work is stressful because of the evaluation and competition attending every task. It’s hard enough to engage a large room full of strangers without knowing you will be evaluated mercilessly (and anonymously) by each and every one. And I feel expected to wow, dazzle, and edify. Likewise with scholarship: writing itself is not painful, I realize, it is the attendant self-doubt. I know that competition is considered by many to be a great stimulus; however, I find it distracting and enervating. But worse is the stress I seem to absorb from those around me. Even before the current economic crisis, it seemed most encounters on campus were permeated by discontent, anxiety, and stress.
It's hard to stand above that fray at times, to focus on the good things about the job, on the students, on those moments of insight. One thing I've learned in the months I've been on my own is how to focus on the good. There's a lot I could say that's bad about my situation right now. I'm not making enough money. I'm working a lot without getting paid. I'm doing more housework. But, perhaps because I have the time, I'm able to redirect those thoughts into more positive ones. Or perhaps because I don't have coworkers around me who feed those negative thoughts. Whatever I do, like Haynie, I hope to maintain a relaxed attitude when things get harried.