November
21st 2008
Deep thoughts

Posted under: jobs

Baa Ram U. has the eccentric (to me, anyway) tradition of cancelling classes all of Thanksgiving week.  I like having a fall break, but I’d prefer one that happened before there’s only two weeks left in the semester.  (But of course, a proper October Fall Break as observed in Eastern colleges wouldn’t coincide with the opening of ski season, which I think is the actual holiday we’re meant to keep here in Colorado.)  So having taught my last class, I’m in a pensive mood this afternoon, and these questions weigh on me:

  • In what other profession does “break” or “vacation” really mean “opportunity to do all the other work that’s part of your job,” teaching excepted?  To be fair, staff have to work Monday through Wednesday, so most grown-ups around here are still on the clock, but we still have Winter, Spring, and Summer breaks ahead of us, don’t we?
  • In what other line of work does a “promotion” mean that you are permitted to do the same job you’ve done for six years (or more?  Doesn’t “promotion” usually imply new challenges and exciting new opportunities?) 

Are there any other deep thoughts you want to share?

14 Comments »

14 Responses to “Deep thoughts”

  1. ej on 21 Nov 2008 at 1:18 pm #

    I’ve always envied my friends with non-academic jobs because they actually get to enjoy Sundays, instead of using them to catch up on grading and prep for Monday classes.

    That said, I am currently contemplating blowing off work this lovely Friday afternoon to take my dog for a walk. My friends who are required to be in an office building for 40 hours a week (or more) don’t have the luxury of such choices.

  2. Buzz on 21 Nov 2008 at 2:13 pm #

    I’ll be taking several papers to referee on my trip north for Thanksgiving. It’s just part of the job, but there’s another side to it. This morning, my four-year-old daughter informed me that I didn’t seem to be spending enough time at work, and she wanted to know why I could spend more time at home and/or with her during the week than other kids’ dads.

  3. Historiann on 21 Nov 2008 at 3:02 pm #

    Flexibility is good, but I don’t think people really consider what that means, including a lot of people who idealize academia because of the “flexibility.” For example, I ran into an old grad school acquaintance at a conference recently, and he told me that was happily married and the father of two (his wife is also an academic, in his department.) He told me that he gets home by 4 to manage the after school/snack/homework/playtime/dinner/bedtime routine, and he “loves” his job because of this. Then, he goes into his study to work until 11 p. or midnight–several nights a week, if not every night.

    That sounds pretty brutal to me, but then, I wake up at 4:30 or 5 many mornings to finish my class prep or when I’m on a writing deadline. Same insanity, different hours, I guess.

  4. Susan on 21 Nov 2008 at 3:12 pm #

    Yes, it’s amazing what get’s hidden in the “flexibility” of our schedules. . . like you, I’d rather get up at 5 AM to finish prepping than stay up until 11 or 12…

    As for deep thoughts: In what other profession do those with no training think they can tell us why we are wrong about the things we have spent years studying?

  5. Historiann on 21 Nov 2008 at 3:34 pm #

    Yes, Susan: that’s an excellent addition to the bullet list! Although I will say that in my family there are a few primary care physicians, and although it’s infrequent, they are challenged by patients. (It’s the patients’ right after all not to submit to the recommended course of treatment, for whatever reason–I’m not saying that physicians are in all cases right about every patient.) The non peer-reviewed internets have been done wonders for making people feel like they know something, when they really don’t. Sometimes it’s just small stuff, but this is now the anti-vaxers spread their woo about the “dangers” of vaccination (especially in re: the continuously and completely debunked “connection” to autism.)

  6. Knitting Clio on 21 Nov 2008 at 3:45 pm #

    I don’t know which Eastern colleges you’re talking about, but here at not-UConn we don’t get Columbus Day or Veterans Day, and only get the day before Thanksgiving. Right now we’re all nervous wrecks and ready for the damn semester to be over already.

  7. Another Damned Medievalist on 21 Nov 2008 at 3:56 pm #

    We have a fall break, right after midterms. I spend an awful lot of time explaining to people that, no, most of the faculty I know aren’t “on break”, because midterm grades are due on the second(and last) day of the break. If we go anywhere, it’s with marking in tow. And every year, our school paper talks about “while faculty and students enjoy their vacation, here’s what staff are doing.” Every. Year.

    And yeah on the flexibility. I could be better with my time, but the thing about this gig is that we have to get through X amount of information, and we have to give Y number of assessments, and we have to mark them and return them in a timely manner. For most of us, missing a day means catching up by the same end-of-term deadline, not hoping a colleague will pick up the slack.

  8. Historiann on 21 Nov 2008 at 4:39 pm #

    I’m sorry that you don’t get Fall Break, KC! Maybe it’s only a posh college thing. I remember hearing (way back in the 1980s) that it started at elite schools and was called unofficially the “suicide break.” Apparently, privileged college students were so incredibly stressed out by the rigors of their curricula that some of them were committing suicide. So, fancy colleges instituted a Fall Break to offer a little time off before Thanksgiving break. (Maybe this is a Cornell legend thing, with all of those mezmerizing gorges that have hosted many jumpers over the years?)

    I can testify that otherwise, it’s a real slog (13 weeks!) to Thanksgiving Break for us. But, I’m not about to throw myself off of a bridge. (And I think the bridges over the Poudre and the South Platte are about 8 feet above the water, which is only about 2 feet deep, so I think I’d probably survive in any case.)

    ADM, this is what I hear about Colorado College, which teaches on the “block system,” meaning that students take 1 course intensively for 3-1/2 weeks, and the remainder of the fourth week is when the kids all head up into the mountains. Sounds great, right? Well, the faculty have exactly 2 work days and one weekend to do their grading, submit their final grades, and then slap a syllabus together for the next block. Whew.

  9. The_Myth on 21 Nov 2008 at 5:19 pm #

    Considering most institutions I was affiliated with only gave off for Thanksgiving and Friday, I suspect many other places give extended breaks that week because class attendance drops to near-nonexistence.

    Many u’grads think they can take 10 days off for Thanksgiving and just disappear until the Tuesday or Wednesday of the following week.

    [I took to unofficially cancelling the Wednesday before and the Monday after. I never got in trouble, but I was always fearful of administrative reprimand. Near the end, I just didn't care since the students didn't care either.]

  10. Susan on 21 Nov 2008 at 5:43 pm #

    Actually, I think the origin of fall break at Princeton was the 1968 presidential campaign, and it was so students could go campaign.

    We don’t have a fall break, and I teach on Wednesday of this coming week. Just saying. Oh, and I teach at 8 AM Wednesday. We got Labor Day and Veterans Day. . .

  11. WhoStruckJohn on 21 Nov 2008 at 6:15 pm #

    Or you could have been a dairy farmer, like my father, and worked virtually every day, 365 days a year, year after year, until the day he died. The only “vacation” he got to my knowledge was when he rolled the tractor and spent two weeks in intensive care.

    It’s all a matter of perspective. We have it a lot better than the preceding generations that lived on the land.

  12. Historiann on 21 Nov 2008 at 6:21 pm #

    Agreed, WhoStruckJohn. I’m not complaining in this post (much!), I’m just thinking that maybe I need to carve out a little vacation in my “vacations,” and take breaks from my “breaks.” Technology has made it possible to be at work all day long whether one is physically in the office or not. Plus, the other adult in my household is an eldest-child, Type-A workaholic like me, so we tend to reinforce one another.

    The_Myth, amazingly I had all but 2 or 3 students in my class of 26 this morning, and one of those absences was a planned absence by a student athlete who is out of town for a game. Perhaps giving them a 10-day fall break curbs the itch to peel off that last day or two of scheduled classes after all? (This is the first year I’ve had such great attendance the day before T-giving break.)

  13. Indyanna on 21 Nov 2008 at 8:18 pm #

    Here’s my contribution on the origins of Fall Break: It was right after the horrors of Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia in April 1970 and the subsequent “events” at Kent State and Jackson State. Schools shut down by the score, others offered everyone “pass fail” options, anything to get people home in one piece. Fall 1970 was an off-year congressional election of seemingly great importance. (One slogan was “if pro is the opposite of con, what is the opposite of progress?”) Campus administrators thought a mid-October stand-down from classes would give students an incentive to “work within the system” and thus avoid more radicalism and violence after summer vacations. In reality most people just went home and slept and hung out and rested up. The runup to Watergate was officially on. In classes, I compare it with the two year “lull” of enui and drift after the Boston Massacre in March, 1770.

    We’ve gone back and forth about Thanksgiving and now have the full week like Historiann. I’m not knocking it, but in truth, I guess I’m also not knocking on doors for social change and that kind of stuff. Just writing things, including letters of recommendation, etc. In Transaltoonia, the Monday after Thanksgiving is celebrated as “First Day Buck,” but school goes on as usual.

  14. Cero on 23 Nov 2008 at 2:13 pm #

    Ah yes – I identify … great post and thread. :-)

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