I Survived My First Semester on the Tenure Track!
Excuse me for just a moment while I squee like Professor Farnsworth!
My first semester at Lamar University is in the books, and all in all, I couldn't be happier with both how it went, and also, that it's now officially come to a close. Today, I roamed about the MAES building one final time to turn in one last grade change form. B and I celebrated with dinner at Willy Burger's, and tonight, we're going to Classic Movie Night at the old Jefferson Theater. It's a truly Beaumont way to celebrate.
This semester, I went through a lot, accomplished a lot, and of course, I learned a lot. Here are some of the lessons I learned this semester:
1. Being an Assistant Professor is Nothing Like Being a Lecturer
As a lecturer at UTRGV, I got real good at being a teacher. I had to be; it was my job! Juggling a heavy teaching load became doable, enjoyable even, and the majority of my professional time and brainspace was focused on the classroom itself.
However, as an Assistant Professor, this wasn't the case. Teaching was still important, and in the beginning of the semester, it consumed a lot of my time and energy. but I quickly realized that it's really only a piece of the pie. My duties with the press were important, my writing projects were important, traveling, reading, conferences, more writing!
It became vital for me to prioritize my efforts and time. Teaching is the sort of thing you can lose yourself in, and in order to keep from doing that, I developed weekly goals for my teaching and grading. Once I'd met those goals, I moved on to another task, which left almost enough time to get other stuff done.
Sometimes, I found myself without a clear direction, and I still feel that way. I think that part of the difficulty of being on the tenure track is figuring out how you're going to embed yourself into the university and scholarly culture around you. That's nebulous and tough. It's easier to grade 100 papers than to sort out that kind of existential question. But little by little, I'm carving out a place for myself at Lamar, becoming a part of the community, and hopefully proving myself to be valuable. My teaching was my value as a lecturer. As an AP, I get to/have to define that.
2. But still, a Lot of the Lessons I Learned as a Lecturer Applied
Being a lecturer (with a gazillion students/sections) taught me how to grade meaningfully and quickly. Boy was that valuable this semester! Coming into this job, I already had tricks up my sleeve for finishing off a student paper in 5 or so minutes. When I grade, I just look for the specific "thing" or concept I taught and focus my feedback on that, which makes life easier. I know how to utilize peer feedback, revision and multiple drafts, and reflection to help students become more independent and autonomous with their writing (read, less reliant on me). All of this applied to my job at Lamar, and all of it proved invaluable.
And students in Edinburg have a lot more in common with students in Beaumont that I'd originally thought, so working with a new kind of population really wasn't that difficult. They're all the same kind of beast with nuanced differences. The way I related to, talked to, and worked with students in the valley worked with these guys, too. So I certainly felt like I had a leg up compared to if I'd come into this position with limited university teaching experience. It wasn't hard to adapt in the classroom, which made it easier, in turn, to adapt to the other new expectations I wasn't used to.
3. Goals Are Important
My main goal this semester, truly, was to survive. Sure, I had some writerly goals up my sleeve, too, like finishing my poetry manuscript, learning the basics of running the press, and working on a collaborative arts project, but to be honest, if none of that happened, I'd have been happy still with my progress. Nonetheless, thanks to a faculty writing group I joined, I was "peer pressured" into setting myself some tangible, achievable goals, and in turn, I made some real progress in my writing. I met my publicly articulated goals (finish revising Iliad and write one book review), but my "secret" goals fell to the wayside (write one new short story).
For me, having that peer pressure was really helpful, so this is something I'll continue doing. I hope to be more strategic with my goals as I learn more about the expectations for tenure, which to me are still a little mysterious. Fortunately...
4. The Importance of Colleagues
Fortunately, I have some amazing colleagues. First of all, again, my writing group, headed by the writing director in my department, has been immensely beneficial. And then there's my department chair, who is also amazing, who I feel is actually looking out for me and wants me to succeed. My office neighbor is also a senior, tenured faculty member, and he is incredibly encouraging, pushing me to write and submit more. He's a poet, too, so we're always chatting about different calls for submissions, commiserating about our book projects, and cheering one another on. And perhaps most importantly, I have the press director whose essentially taken me under his wing and has proven to truly be the best kind of mentor a girl could ask for. My only fear is that these folks will eventually retire, but hopefully not before I feel like I can hold my own at Lamar.
5. It's Really Doable
It really is. This job is really my dream-come-true job, and going into it, I had a certain fear that I wouldn't live up to the expectations. I was talking about this with another new colleague a few weeks ago, how your first tenure track position is a kind of fairy tale, and once you get it, you feel like you're in that "happily ever after" stage of life, which no one really talks about. What if it isn't all it's cracked up to be?
And there's something to be said about it really being the beginning of a whole new journey, a new set of expectations, a new role, a new, seemingly insurmountable challenge of "attaining tenure." But it's doable. At least, at this point, to me, it seems so.
My day to day life has been pretty manageable. I try to balance my time, be organized, and treat myself well, all while keeping my head above the water. I just hope I'm treading, too, in the right direction.
6. I'm Exactly Where I Need to Be, Doing Exactly What I Was Made to Do
All in all, at the end of the day, I'm content with my place here at Lamar, with my students, my job, my colleagues, and my future. For the most part, I feel supported and like I've been given an opportunity to flourish.
Next semester, I'm teaching poetry. I also have a further reduced teaching load, so I hope to get lots more writing done, too, and have time to focus on learning more about running the press. At the end of the day, I'm doing what I love to do. I'm one of the fortunate few who get to wake up everyday and do not only what I'm good at, but what I'm passionate about, too.
On Sunday, I'm going to a colleague's house for a Christmas Party/book release celebration. Then, Monday, I'm returning to the valley to spend the holidays with my family and friends there. The cats will be in tow, too. I'm looking forward to a month of inspiration, rest, and family time. And of course, there'll be some poetry mixed in as well, as always.