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Ask the Professor

The Letter:

Dear CSU Professor,

I accepted a position in the CSU because its primary mission is to provide quality teaching and learning environments, but I'm having a hard time balancing all the conflicting pressures to try new pedagogies, use service learning, use technology, sit on committees, participate in outcomes assessment efforts, contribute to teacher education (even though I'm not a teacher ed faculty member), and do sufficient research to satisfy RPT and merit pay committees. In addition, my biological clock is ticking and I'd really like to start a family in the next couple of years. I'd love to hear from some faculty who have been especially successful balancing conflicting demands. How do they do it?

--Too Busy in the CSU (actually I'd like to sign this Too Busy to Breed, but this probably is over the line)

Three CSU Professors Respond:

Bob Cottrell · Edward EmanuEl · Jackie Kegley

Bob Cottrell responds:

Dear Concerned,

First, let me acknowledge, hopefully without sounding patronizing, that your concerns are genuine. The demands on CSU faculty involving teaching, professional accomplishments, and service are considerable and at times appear overwhelming. This is particularly so, undoubtedly, for junior faculty who have to undergo the early RTP cycles. At the same time, I believe it is possible to attain a balance between professional responsibilities, community life, and family; the priorities in each case will, of course, differ for every individual. For me personally, my propensity to organize and compartmentalize systematically has proven invaluable. In many of my classes, I rely on detailed outlines that serve as guideposts for both the students and their instructor. I strive for tightly organized lectures that are, nevertheless, not rigidly delivered and allow for considerable free-flowing discussion. I maintain files for the committee assignments that I've drawn; when I'm involved with a special project I attempt to attend to my tasks as soon as possible. In similar fashion, I conduct my research and writing in a systematic manner. When I'm undertaking archival research, I photocopy all potentially relevant materials. Once back home, I read through those documents and place them in topically or chronologically labeled files. In the meantime, I've devised an outline of projected book chapters that I don't remain immutably tied to if the occasion merits. I write daily, producing a minimum number of words, after having established a reasonable target. During the editing and rewriting phase, I again establish goals that I strive to attain. Such an approach enables me to write or edit every day and yet to retain my eagerness to do so.

I have to admit, that, in my case at least, other factors have proven helpful in enabling me to complete my tasks as a CSU faculty member. A comfortable place to read and write certainly is beneficial, but so too are adequate exercise, humor, and an attitude that declares things to be half full, not half empty. Supportive family members can be most significant of all. Perhaps important too is a recognition by all parties concerned that faculty members have various strengths. Some will undoubtedly make their greatest contribution to the academy in the classroom, others through professional works, and still others through service. All can become treasured members of their academic institutions.

Good luck and feel free to send questions my way!

--Bob Cottrell
Professor of History and American Studies
CSU, Chico


* * * * *

Edward EmanuEl responds:

What does it mean to be a teacher? This is the real question. Does it mean that you impart knowledge? Does it mean that you meet classes and motivate students to learn? Does it mean that you are a fountain of all information relating to your subjects? Does it mean that you constantly evaluate your students so they can get direct feedback on what you think they are learning? Do you constantly perform personal research in your area of expertise so that you can be a creditable resource tool for your students? Does it mean that you ask them to evaluate our process so that you can constantly improve the quality of your classes? Does it mean that you self-evaluate your teaching techniques and determine the success of your classes by assessing the outcomes that affect your students? Does it mean that you become familiar with the latest technologies available to you so that your classes will be exciting, stimulating, and thought-provoking? Does it mean that you actively participate on every university committee you can in order to ensure that the university makes the best possible decisions they can to enhance the learning environment on your campus? Does it mean that you are fully aware of every aspect of university life, student life, and the problems that students encounter at your university that might affect their behavior in your classes? Does it mean that you are an advisor, a mentor, and a counselor to the students in your classes?

Yes to all of this. Teaching is not simply meeting your classes at the appointed times. Teaching is not simply collecting term papers and exams and correcting them. Teaching now includes every aspect of your university universe. And if this presents an incredible time and energy challenge to you then that only confirms that teaching is the noblest and most difficult profession in our society. It is hard work and rewarding work because of the tremendous demands on the teacher to prepare students for this incredibly complex world. And no matter what we are asked to do as professionals, we must do it all because in the short run and in the long run it will make us better teachers, more competent teachers, more successful teachers, and it will inspire others to follow us into the profession. Having a child in this world shouldn't be decided by the question "Do I have the time to have one?" It should be a choice based on love and the need to see another wonderful generation of children reach adulthood, become students in your classes, and graduate to make this world a better place. Of course you should have a child if you want one and don't worry how hard your teaching profession is because what you are preparing to do will make your classes more successful and ensure the success of university teaching when someday your child becomes a university student. Let us hope that the professor who walks into your child's classroom is as well prepared to teach as you are and has acquired all of the added tools of success that those issues which prompted your question can and will provide.

--Edward EmanuEl
Professor of Theatre Arts
CSU, Fresno


* * * * *

Jackie Kegley responds:

Thank for choosing the CSU and raising an issue so many colleagues face.

Each of the conflicting demands you name are important and contribute to a quality teaching and learning environment.The commitment of CSU faculty to be excellent scholars and excellent teachers as well as to contribute to the enrichment of education through service learning and technology makes CSU the best educational institution in the world. Contributing to the resolution of significant public issues such as the improvement of teacher education and engaging in shared governance are two other aspects of our excellence.

In trying to meet the demands, assess your own talents and interests. Choose to focus on those areas to which you can make a significant contribution. This includes contributions to committee and other shared governance work. If one of the demand areas is not in your interest zone or perceived talents, support colleagues who can and are contributing. Let them know that you appreciate their contributions. However, please do not rule out the possibility that you might love something if you try it. Seek out professional development activities and the advice, support, and help of colleagues who have experimented in the area. Going it alone is not what teaching, learning, and collegiality is all about.

Be creative in your response to demands. Seek to bring different aspects together. Thus, you may be able to combine technologically enhanced instruction, a new pedagogy, student outcomes assessment, and service learning. It might well be a course for future teachers. There are many opportunities to be creative in this way, especially in discussion with other colleagues. Further, joint projects are enriching and fun and help bolster your commitment and enthusiasm.

Of course, time management is crucial. Plot out your commitments and carve out time for each. Plan your research time in addition to your other time commitments. And do not forget time for yourself and for your loved ones. Work with your department and colleagues in planning out your commitments including a commitment to starting a family. Seek the advice and support of colleagues and friends in trying to accomplish what you have set as your goals. Above all, do not give up on what you believe is really important. Assess how each demand fits into your priorities and what time commitment is necessary to meet the demand according to your standards. Ponder carefully before you commit and then give your best to that commitment.

Above all, know that your commitment and work is appreciated. It certainly is by me.

--Jacquelyn Ann K. Kegley
Chair, Academic Senate, CSU
Professor of Philosophy
CSU, Bakersfield


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Last modified December 22, 2006.