Monday, December 31, 2018

Sabbatical: The True Meaning of Time

So no apologies or grand statements regarding that my quiet academic blog is now alive and awake again. No promises as to what it will become, or how often I will update. I'm going to let this evolve on its own. Like all the best things I do, I have a sketch in my head as to what I'd like this blog to be while I'm sabbatical -- as I research and write what will hopefully be another book. But, things happen and unfold in interesting and unpredictable ways. I have been doing a great deal of research in the past several months, all in preparation for what will be several months of concentrated work.

For those who may not be familiar with what a sabbatical is or how it works, it's basically a paid leave from one's usual responsibilities on campus in order to do intensive research or writing. Most universities grant year-long sabbaticals; but since Western isn't the most cash-flush or research-oriented university, our sabbaticals are one semester long ... we can take a year if we'd like, but at half-pay. Since I can't afford to live on half of my salary, I opted for the semester-long sabbatical. Sabbaticals are something for which faculty have to apply and be approved. It's a multi-step process that requires proposals and evidence that one has actually done research while they're gone. Once you are on the tenure track, you can apply for a sabbatical once every 7 years. 

This is my first sabbatical. So I have no idea what to expect nor can I wax philosophical on what it's like. 

I can say, however, that this will be the first time I'm not on an academic schedule since I first started going to school. And I don't mean grad school. I mean Pre-K. My years have been portioned by the academic calendar since I was 4. Elementary school. High school. College. Grad school. Teaching. There were no breaks. I have always either been in a classroom as a student or as an instructor since I was 4 years old. I am now 46. You do the math. Sure, there are semester breaks, but this was the first time I entered a semester break without having to think about the next semester's classes. It was less disorienting than I thought it would be. 

Not many people who aren't teachers understand exactly how much time and energy teaching requires. I normally have a teaching load of 4 classes per semester. I'm physically in the classroom for 3 hours per course per week (spread out over a Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Tuesday/Thursday schedule for each). I am also required to have at least 5 hours per week of "office hours" for students. So that's 17 hours per week of teaching/office hours. That doesn't include class preps, grading, committee work, meetings, and the administrative side of directing the philosophy program. Most days, I arrive on campus by 8:30am and leave after 5pm. Most days before or after that I'm prepping/reading for classes, grading, or doing paperwork. Weekends are the same. When I leave for the day, I bring work with me. 

I get up at 5am on weekdays in order to have a little under 60 minutes to do my own research. Semester breaks are also times when I've been able to do my own research. But 1/3rd to 1/2 of those breaks are filled with writing recommendations for students, prepping for the next semester's classes, and dealing with the inevitable committee work that brings me to campus during those breaks. 

With a sabbatical, 85%-90% of the above work goes away. 

This is why sabbatical are precious ... because it gives us time. 

Time to let the big thoughts develop. Time to sit down and THINK. Time to actually read something that isn't a student paper or a committee report. Time to write through a problem without looking at the clock and thinking about how you're going to make Kant into a remotely interesting class. Time to focus on your own work instead of the at-risk student who has been looking really tired in class and probably isn't eating because they just got dumped by their fiancee or their dog is sick or they flipped their car over for the 3rd time in 2 years. Time to sit in quiet instead of dealing with yet another new directive from administration to fund raise or recruit even though you have zero experience or expertise in doing so. Time to read relevant writing in your field instead of being asked to justify the importance of your field or to report back as to exactly where your students from 7 years ago are working now and how your classes got them that particular job. 

There is time. 

Time to recharge myself so that when I do return, Kant will be an interesting class. Time to become re-invested in my field and feel legitimate as an academic again so that I can pay better attention to my students and reach out when I know they're at risk. Time to research so that when I return I have evidence of exactly how important my field is, and exactly why studying it isn't just important, but imperative to making students marketable to employers. 

There is time for me to focus on me, so that I can eventually focus better on my job and doing it well. 

That's what sabbatical is all about, Charlie Brown. 

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