Monday, May 23, 2011

The ebbing energy of pre-tenure profs

I truly LOVE my job. Aren't I lucky to be able to say this? I know how fortunate I am to want to go to work each day and to love that work. What do I love about it? I especially love the teaching moments where students lean forward, throw their hands in the air, and see the connection between life and content. I love the contribution I make to our community through my institution. I love the researching and nerdy knowledge I can examine in new projects. I love talking with other professors about teaching techniques and tools. I love working with others toward a common goal. I really LOVE what I do.

But, despite all of these hearts and happy thoughts, this pre-tenure track status is getting me down! The stress, the need to push, the feeling that it isn't quite enough, the loss of energy as a new term begins...BLAH! I certainly don't love those feelings. And believe me, those feelings hit me hard this morning.

I returned to the office after a week off to find that I'm not quite ready for registration or for a new semester. If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you will note how out of character this is! I spent a few days visiting family and working in my little garden. Other time was spent on launching a new research project (See blog entry below and consider participating!) and working on other research projects, finalizing a grant proposal, etc. The work wasn't tedious or overwhelming and I had plenty of breaks, so I'm curious about this flood of fatigue that hit me as I turned my key in the office door this morning.

My hope is that my energy rushes back on Wednesday when we register and I can see the excitement on the students' faces, the possibility in a new class, and the potential of all of the scholars. I notice, however, that each semester closer to tenure review has me feeling less energy before a new term. To try to overcome this pesky pre-tenure lack of vim, I have a few tactics:
    Always writing: Journaling at WSU
  • I am spending a few moments reading student letters from the past several semesters. These are necessary for my annual retention packet so going through them isn't just a confidence/energy booster -- it is productive!
  • I am also hitting my own personal journal entries about being a student at Purdue, at Ball State, and during my fellowship at Washington State. These tasks help me remember the excitement of class from a student perspective.
  • I am taking breaks. Yes, there are thirteen million (slight hyperbole) things to do before the summer session begins in a few days, but I am taking a break each day for completely non-academic work. I will continue my volunteer work with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, I will paint the guest bedroom, I will go for a skate in the park, I will tackle the weeds along the back fence.
  • I am innovating! To rekindle zest in my course content, I am adding new ideas, new techniques, new stories, and new activities to my online and on-ground courses this summer and fall. I do not want to EVER feel bored with my content (even if I hear it 5 times a semester for 4 years in a row...), so each term I am embracing at least one new tech tool/option and new ways to share the content with the students. I find this helps to re-awaken that energy for another semester when the weight of it starts to pull me down.
By focusing on the positive, embracing the past, finding fun future activities, and taking a few breaks to breathe, I hope to avoid any sign of a stutter in the important start to another new semester.

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