Sunday, January 9, 2011

No Answers, Only Questions

The semester begins tomorrow.  Yes, I have been back at work for a week preparing and attending meetings, but classes actually begin tomorrow.

I have been thinking alot about work.  My first full-time faculty position was basically my first "real" job after earning my Ph.D.  It depends on if you count a postdoc and adjunct teaching as a "real job", which many people (including myself, sometimes) don't.

I started out teaching at a very small community and technical college that was trying to find its way after the reforms our state put in place.  I was the only person that taught my subject area for several years, so I could help build the department (with lacking budget, of course.)  It was a very valuable experience.  One of the biggest things I've learned since I left there?  Is how unique an experience it was.

I really want to go back.

So now I'm at a large urban community and technical college, the second oldest and the largest in the state.  With a huge, established, aging faculty.  I teach on a campus separate from my entire department.  Despite being in my second year there, many people don't seem to know who I am.  I feel isolated much of the time.

I never said goodbye at my old place.  I went on maternity leave earlier than expected because of my health issues.  I left the Friday before Spring Break with most of the college not knowing that I wouldn't be returning until after the birth.  Which is when I decided that it would be easier to stay close to my parents, so I never went back at all.

Then there is the matter of the students.  I'm not sure what's different there.  I still teach students going through an intensive selective admissions process for allied health courses.   I still teach a content-rich, academically rigorous course.  I actually have fewer students per class than I did before, and overall slightly less of a teaching load than where I was before.  (Significantly less than what I would be teaching under their new workload policy instituted just before I went on maternity leave.)  But my experience over the last three semesters included less respect and responsibility, and more of an expectation on me to handhold, than where I was previously.

I usually do my self-examination and reflection at the beginning of the academic year.  I find myself revisiting that process in my mind after the stresses of last semester.  I'm working quite hard on the process of tenure, to be secure in this position for my and my child's future.  So why do I complain so much about (at, at times, loathe so much) the very job I'm trying to earn security for?

I don't have an answer.  This isn't your tidy little post with background, the crux of the question, and a neat little answer tied up in a bow.  It's just angsty self examination at its finest.  Sorry if you're disappointed.

I've also been thinking alot about codependency.  In normal development, humans move from a state of complete dependence, to acquiring independence, to being capable of healthy interdependence.  (I got that from a book, either a Pia Mellody or a Melody Beattie, my two favorite authors on the subject of codependence.)  I find myself struggling with the healthy interdependence part in many areas of my life.  I feel like I went from dependence, to independent, and never learned the third step.  I spent 18 years as independent as I could, and now I'm back home.  In a place that I honestly never expected to live ever again in my life.

There's other, more tangential and infrequent, thoughts in my head too.  About personal power - how you feel vicitimized when you feel powerless.  The more of your own power you can possess the less victimized you might feel.  But how does one do that in a way that is respectful of others?  About group dynamics - how strong emotions like anxiety seem to spread through a group of isolated individuals.  What is my responsibility as a faculty member for helping to manage that?  What is my responsibility for helping with group cohesion - before the group gets unruly and turns on me for what they feel are unreasonable expectations?

I guess it all boils down to: how do I start the semester off feeling positive?  Because I know with the weather/season, the stress, the obligations, the students, etc, that if I don't start off high, then I'll end up really really low.  And I don't have an answer to how to do that.

So today I'm cleaning.  Which isn't helping because my toddler is trying to "help".  And every time I turn my back a bucket of soapy water gets overturned or the pile of dirt I just swept up is scattered by her sweeping efforts.  It almost seems symbolic - I'm trying to create order which is immediately turned into disorder.

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