Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mardi Gras: reflections of the tenure track?!

Here in New Orleans, we enjoy two breaks during the Spring term: Mardi Gras break and Spring Break. Our Mardi Gras break is 3 days and after a busy semester, I was glad to see a few days where I could take a break this week. Have you ever noticed, in academia, that a break isn't really a break? Somehow the work sucks us back in. I did work on emails, a conference proposal, treasurer duties for an organization, reviewer duties for another conference, and some grading. But a Mardi Gras break refused to be ignored and after the last couple of weeks, my brain was begging for some time away from the computer. With that in mind, I did take a day to just do nothing. I enjoyed a nice walk down near the parades on Sunday and don't think I will ever tire of the energy that this city can generate during Mardi Gras season. The houses are decorated, the people are friendly, and the whole city has a sense of family and celebration about it.

As I walked around the city, it was clear to see that Mardi Gras offers a lot for the city, but Mardi Gras can be applied to the tenure-track faculty life (don't shriek in disbelief, it is true!). Take the Mardi Gras colors: green, gold and purple. Green stands for FAITH. Gold stands for POWER. Purple stands for JUSTICE. The colors of Mardi Gras were everywhere this past week and I was very excited to learn about their meanings. Faith, Power and Justice: I live my tenure-track life with these beliefs. I have faith in my institution and in the tenure process, I hold the power to make it a successful journey and to make choices which will move me forward toward tenure, and I believe in the justice of the mantra that hard work WILL pay off.

Additionally, Mardi Gras itself and the constant chanting of "Throw me something, mister!" from tourists and city dwellers alike had me thinking about the goal of tenure. We want something and we sure do fight for it. During Mardi Gras, we raise our hands, clamor to the front of the parade route traffic, and (as I can attest as I rub a bruise given to me by an eager parade attendee) even elbow our way ahead of others to reach our goal. Tenure, for those on the tenure track, can seem all-consuming and we might forget that HOW we get there could be as important as getting there. So tuck the elbows in and do the work without breaking down those around you. It can help you reach tenure as you will be seen as a collegial contributing member of the department. It will also make the tenure-track experience more enjoyable (again, drawing on the parades and how much MORE fun it is to work with others, as we see city dwellers give beads to tourists who haven't figured out the best way to grab them out of the air).

Mardi Gras break also allowed me time to reflect. The city's celebrations reminded me to celebrate--a lesson much needed in the tenure-track process. It might be overwhelming some days and exhausting others, but there are many times where we can celebrate the tenure-track journey and too often we cheat ourselves by focusing on the negative emotions. Today I am celebrating the moment in today's class where the students led the discussion, applied the concepts, and then revised their speech outlines. They were engaged, positive, and focused. That is a victory. Today I am also celebrating the mid-point of the semester by offering extended office hours for students to check on their grades and seek extra assistance on their upcoming speeches and midterm exams. This ability to extend my time to connect with students is a treat and I see it as a way I can balance some of the stress of the semester with some of the rewards. Thus, there are many ways that the city, Mardi Gras, and the little break from work have impacted my outlook as I begin to tackle the second half of this semester. With that in mind, let me wish you luck on your own educational journey and leave you with a final Mardi Gras reference, "laissez les bon temps rouler!"

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