William Kisaalita 2018-02-16 23:51:37
“I love teaching, but I hate grading” and other paradoxes Editor’s note: The author’s previous Last Word, titled “I love teaching, but I hate grading,” appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Resource (http://bt.e-ditionsbyfry.com/publication/?i=198558&p=31). In this Last Word, he expands on that idea. I often hear paradoxical statements, “I love..., but I hate...,” from colleagues in their first years of a teaching career in a STEM field. In the early years of my assistant professorship, before tenure, I also struggled with contradictory experiences. As a result, I learned to rely on a number of coping strategies to survive. My top seven paradoxes, and my coping strategies for them, are listed below. You many have experienced some of these paradoxes. If so, I want you to know that you’re not alone. I hope my coping strategies are helpful for those starting their teaching careers and for graduate students heading in the same direction: I love teaching, but I hate grading. I have had to constantly devise new strategies to get my grading done in a timely manner. Three things have worked for me. Creating a “grading key” in advance helps to improve the assigned questions and also makes the grading much easier. To concentrate on grading, I step away from the office, which is full of distractions. Going to the library is not helpful because the library is full of books and magazines with covers that shout “pick me up and read me.” Going to a public place, like the student cafeteria, and finding a corner table works best. I’ve recently introduced peer evaluation in my classes. That reduces the grading load, and my students have responded to it very positively. I love directing study abroad programs, but I hate it when I’m told not to do it until I’m promoted. The advice I got was not baseless. Directing a study abroad program consumes a lot of time and, apart from the positive student responses and personal satisfaction, these programs may provide little contribution toward a promotion. But there are ways to organize a program to yield results that are valued by promotion committees. For example, rather than take students to attend classes at a foreign institution, focus on project-based activities and make a second trip to build on the results of the first trip. If your inquiry or design problem is well thought out, the results will be publishable. You can also design an experiment to test what the students learned from their unique experience. Of course, you will need non-equivalent controls, such as students who stayed home but engaged in a similar project. I love research, but I hate proposal writing. The prevailing low funding rate takes the fun out of proposal writing. Three steps have reduced the pain for me. First, I start with a 1000-word perspective, akin to the perspectives in Science magazine, to ground the hypothesis. Second, in lab meetings, my graduate students and I translate the hypothesis into specific objectives with a related experimental design, including positive and negative controls. Third, we start experimentation on one of the objectives to generate preliminary data. I consider submitting the proposal only after I have some results in support of the hypothesis. It’s important for new assistant professors to negotiate funding for at least one graduate student in their start-up package. Collaborating with a senior colleague from the get-go can be very helpful. I love my job, but I hate it when I’m made to feel like an outsider. There are numerous ways, conscious or unconscious, but unmistakable, in which the “you do not belong” message is conveyed. You know the feeling when a three-person conversation shrinks to a two-person conversation, and you are not one of the two. Another example occurs in committee meetings. Your contribution to the conversation is ignored, but then someone at the far end of the table repeats your idea. All of a sudden, it’s an important point. You may also have a “colleague” who persistently downplays your research ideas as pedantic. If you feel like lashing out at such people, I hear you! But your interests are best served by building a network of colleagues who are in your corner. Remember what Mark Twain said: “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” I love my leaders, but I hate it when they seem not to value my time. Someone recently said that a meeting is where leaders practice their craft. No wonder we spend so much time on unimportant issues and not enough time on the important ones; it’s safer to practice leadership when there’s nothing at stake. Leaders also send me endless requests to provide “more information.” One of my mentors gave me good advice for handling this: “If you feel like the request is a phishing expedition, don’t respond. If it’s important, you’ll receive a second request, and if not, you won’t. Either way, you will have used your time wisely.” But you have to be careful, especially early in your career. You don’t want to be labeled as unresponsive. I love telling a story, but I hate having no time to put it on paper. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a high-impact journal article or a magazine piece or a children’s story, they all have three things in common: the beginning, the middle, and the end. To write in a time-starved setting, I find it helpful to sketch an outline and then start with the section that’s best developed in my mind. After I put it all together, I let it sit for a while, and then I come back to it with fresh eyes. Asking a colleague to provide feedback, and revising accordingly, is also a must. But don’t let “track changes” change your voice. Read your work out loud to identify gaps in the logic and breaks in the flow. I love social media, but I hate the amount of time it takes to keep up. This was not the case when I was starting my teaching career, which was a long time ago. I’ve tried to get help, but in a climate of decreasing budgets, help is typically unavailable. I screen my e-mails for what’s important and what needs an immediate response. The problem is that I don’t always get back to the messages that I didn’t respond to immediately. I’m probably paying a professional price for my poor connectivity. Call me old-fashioned. I’m not on Twitter. I have a Facebook account, but I don’t recall when I last “updated my status.” You get the picture. I don’t have a coping strategy for this one. Let me know if you have any suggestions. ASABE member William Kisaalita, Professor and Distinguished Faculty Scholar of Engineering, University of Georgia, Athens, USA, email@example.com. Views expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of ASABE.
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