Follow up on returning to teaching

At Whitman, we are nearing the end of Week 9 of the fall 2018 semester – my first semester as a working mother. At the start of the semester, I shared some thoughts on returning to teaching, which included commitments to leave work at 5 pm, stop overproducing, and prioritize food. How am I doing?

In this blog post I will review my time log for this semester (created using Toggl) and reflect on my experiences.

I have not consistently left work by 5 pm, but I am consistently leaving by 5:15, which is pretty close. Why have I missed my 5 pm target? Often, 4 pm meetings that run until exactly 5 pm, or a few minutes longer. Sometimes, working up until exactly 5 pm and then needing a few minutes to use the bathroom and pack up to leave. Last Friday, to stay a few minutes longer at the Parent-Faculty Social that was scheduled from 4:30-6:00. (I shared with the Chair of the Faculty my request to schedule such events to fall within the work day.)

Looking back at my time log, I’ve missed that 5:15 target four times: Once for Convocation as reported earlier, once when I got caught up talking with a student who visited my office just before 5 with questions about course material, and twice for meetings with student Capstone teams that could not be scheduled earlier in the work day. On the other hand, I have left a little before 5:00 at least once a week. This seems acceptable on the balance.

While I didn’t make a firm commitment, I’ve also been trying to limit work time in the evenings (because I’m tired) and on weekends (to spend time with my family).

My Capstone class meets every other Wednesday at 7:30 pm for progress report presentations and biweekly team retrospectives. It was difficult to find a time that fit into students’ course schedules. I decided before the semester started that this evening meeting was acceptable because it’s after my daughter’s bedtime, and, due to some friends’ unfortunate experiences, Brooks and I have been trading off bedtime since bedtime began. Although I’m tired in the evening, it’s not too hard to listen to student presentations, record notes, and ask questions. I created a recording form to make it easier to note what each student contributes, and I also have a paper form for peer feedback which I copy and distribute to teams while they are doing their retrospectives. The greatest cost of this evening work is that I arrive home around 9 pm, close to my usual bedtime, which means I’m up a bit late.

I’ve done some work during seven of the nine weekends since new students arrived at the start of the semester. That doesn’t sound so great. But two of the weekends, the work was obligatory: new student registration and a faculty retreat. One weekend, the work was a half-hour of reading while my daughter napped; two other weekends, it was less than two hours of email and grading. Last weekend, it was a couple of overdue article reviews which ended up taking only 45 minutes, and a quick weekly review.

Only one weekend did I voluntarily work more than two hours: it took me five hours to write the first midterm exam for my Discrete Math class. I probably could have accomplished something good enough in much less time.

Apart from that one weekend, I feel like I’m doing okay. We’ve discovered that the least disruptive time for me to work is on Saturday morning, while Brooks takes our daughter to the farmers’ market and attempts to put her down for a nap. I miss going to the farmers’ market, especially since it’s a good place for happenstance encounters, but it’s so nice to have work out of the way and the rest of the weekend at home with my family.

How am I doing at not overproducing?

I’ve been keeping up with grading in both my regular classes. In fact, I have never been so caught up. I’ve managed to grade assignments in each class before the next assignment is due. Many days, there is nothing I need to grade. It is so liberating to not have grading constantly looming over me.

In Discrete Math, I’ve chosen not to assign some problems I’ve found difficult to grade in the past. For each problem set, about two-thirds of the class has chosen to work with a partner, so I’m grading about 20 submissions instead of about 30. Using Gradescope has been wonderful for supporting distributed cognition: Keeping my evolving rubrics in Gradescope rather than in my head means I can be interrupted while grading, which makes it much easier to grade during the work day. It’s also easy to see my progress, which is very motivating. Using the autograder for programming problems has a little setup cost, but then I can download grades without any manual arithmetic or data entry. I will confess I’ve used some of the “extra” time to give feedback on students’ programming style, which was too cumbersome with the previous autograder.

In Human-Computer Interaction, we’ve just recently transitioned into the team project. Up until recently, I’ve graded mostly using the rubrics, writing very few individual comments. Now that the project has started, I’ve been trying to give some more individual feedback, since it might influence students’ future work. But since there are only six project teams, that is manageable. It has also helped to allocate some class time to informally presenting and discussing students’ work: not only is it fun for the students, but it gives me a preview during class time of the work I will need to grade.

There are no assignments to grade for the Capstone, but I’ve started a lab notebook and I keep a spreadsheet of notes on each student. It will take some time at the end of the semester to meet with each student and reflect on their contributions. In the absence of individual assignments, this seems like an appropriate approach. And, I have a rubric. (Thanks, Amy!)

Beyond teaching? I thought I had committed to too many article reviews, and in fact I declined two others, but those turned out to be not so difficult after all. I have no service obligations at Whitman beyond my duties as department chair.

I have been allocating zero time to scholarship, and I’m of two minds about it. On the one hand, if there’s one time in my career to let this go, it’s now. I’m meeting my teaching commitments and going home at 5 pm (well, 5:15). On the other hand, I have a small grant proposal to write for my upcoming sabbatical, due December 1, and I don’t know how I am going to find time or switch gears to work on it. I’ve made plans for the first weekend of November to participate in the CRA-W Career Mentoring Workshop (something else I am of two minds about) – maybe I can do some writing on the plane. Or perhaps, particularly since I am caught up on grading, this is something I can tackle during our week-long Thanksgiving break. Or perhaps I will just let it go.

I am prioritizing food, with at least one snack most days. My time log says I’ve spent two hours this semester just eating snacks. In addition to keeping snacks in my office and bringing food from home, I’m also taking advantage of opportunities to buy healthy food on campus. In particular, a grab-and-go cafe opened last week about a hundred yards away from my office, and I just put more money on my college card.

On the other hand, I never understood before why people eat lunch at their desks; now I do.

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