Doubts, hesitations, and self-focused critique…

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Somewhat like the last blog, this one is personal and addresses my affective, creative and cognitive life as a teacher (and as a scholar). One of the major factors that seems to have an impact on my performance as a teacher is time management, or more precisely, planning ahead and effective managing my personal effort and investments of time to assure that tasks are done according to my plans. In a word, temporality counts, prioritizing counts, persistence on task counts. And I don’t always work consistently and persistently enough. I forget to plan ahead. Then, in order to catch up to where I ought to be, I take shortcuts, and that includes just lecturing rather than setting things up so that students do the learning activities with minimal guidance from me. So… yeah.

My student evaluations from this past semester were not bad, but they did note a number of flaws or weaknesses present in my teaching — and they are precisely the ones that I had pledged to correct in 2018. That result leads me to a feeling of incompetence and a strong sense of self-doubt. The problem, of course, is that my inadequate planning and my poor execution of time/effort/task management disallows teaching the way I think it ought to be done. That is, instead of having a full, well-scaffolded set of tasks leading over multiple lessons to a particular accomplishment or well-designed and pertinent set of new understandings or a well-integrated or complementary new skills, the lessons end up being somewhat haphazard. Students feel inspired but confused. It is not clear how everything fits together. Students can’t make sense of things on their own and I do not do a sufficient job of explaining and framing activities. Students are not certain what they have accomplished or what they have learned, even though I know that they have made good progress in many ways.

What is more, I recently allowed my frustration and irritation to get the upper hand, and I spoke to some colleagues in ways that were not fair or admirable. I did little to inspire folks with ideals and strategies of pedagogy, but instead turned them off. Again, my poor handling of my affective life (poor self-awareness leading to the eruption of excessive reactions) undermines my sense of competence and confidence. And…

On top of my feeling terrible about my teaching, I’m doing a terrible job on the scholarly front as well. I have let slip my work on a volume of essays that I’m supposed to be co-editing for publication in summer 2019. I need to get that project back on track. I also need to get back on track for the special issue of a journal that I am supposed to co-edit.

In short, I have allowed a multiplicity of tasks, obligations, demands and deadlines to influence me, to back me into a corner, to incite panic in my mind and heart. Allowing that to happen made me lose contact with the conceptual and organizational threads that I had imagined as my intellectual guides. So now I’m in a bad spot. I need to get back on track, then work in a very intentional way to plan and to manage tasks. My sanity, my reputation and my sense of self depend on it. I’ll need luck as well as clear vision and hard, persistent work.

Clearly, this is what my summer will be shaped by. A lot of my thinking in June, July and early August will be about teaching, with robust planning for the fall semester. I will pay particular attention to the formative feedback and student comments that I have received, along with my self-reflections and self-critiques. I also need to establish some strategies and mechanisms to help me be consistent and persistent in address the flaws in my teaching and lesson-planning (to do lists, a set of clear standards and reminders to guide my thinking, etc.). I need to get back on track and to manage time/tasks better. That’s my job for now.

Whoever said that teaching is “easy” and who considers that summers are “vacation” for teachers and professors probably never really lived in the skin of a conscientious teacher-scholar. It’s hard.