September 25, 2009
When it all becomes too much...make the tough choices
This is not about the stress and anxiety students are feeling, but the stress and anxiety we feel at the start of the school year. 5 weeks into the year, and many of us feel as beat-up as our students. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, if you light the candle (mixed metaphor, but I think it works).
Most ASPer's run themselves ragged at the start of the school year; orientation, new-student workshops, bar prep workshops, one-on-one's with nervous students. On top of these demands, many of us are also teaching classes of some sort. At the start of the semester, you think..."Okay, it will get better in a few weeks. I just have to hold out for a few weeks, and it will slow down." However, it rarely slows down. After the start of the semester, mid-term prep starts. Then mid-term crisis. Finals prep is right after you finish with midterm crisis. Throughout, ASPer's are grading and giving feedback, writing practice questions, serving as a resource to other faculty, attending committee and faculty meetings, returning (voluminous amounts) of email, and some have additional publishing and presentation requirements for contract renewal or tenure considerations. And if you are a new ASPer, everything just takes a longer amount of time to get finished, because you are on such a steep learning curve. To be in your first or second year of the profession, don't expect to work as fast or get as much done as someone in the fourth, fifth, or sixth year.
Lesson: It won't slow down until summer, unless you are involved in bar prep, and it never slows down.
ASPer's tend not to be of the personality type that takes time for themselves. We are the givers. We certainly don't do it for the money (in fact, many of us took pay cuts to be ASPer's). We do it for the satisfaction of helping people. But there is a never-ending supply of people to help. Recognizing this fact is part of the solution. During law school, a wise, wise ASPer told me that all of us got to law school because we ate our spinach before the chocolate cake, but in law school, there is a never-ending supply of spinach, and it's possible to never reach the chocolate cake. You just need to make a choice to stop eating the spinach and reward yourself with the chocolate cake. There may be spinach left on your plate, but you need to choose the chocolate cake.
Right now, you need to start making tough choices, choices that replenish you emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. No one will make these choices for you. Of course there is more to do, there always is more to do, but some of it just won't get done. You won't please all people. Doing more than you are capable of handling can make you a poor role model for our students, who need to see effective work-life balance. No, students won't be thrilled when you tell them you are taking a day off from meetings to focus on professional development, but they will learn much more from a refreshed, happier, teacher than a burnt-out, angry, exhausted one. You may not get support from your faculty and staff; some may resent that you are taking a break during the semester (many don't realize that you worked through the summer). ASP has a high burn-out rate because so many of us don't make the tough choices soon enough. We wait until we finish our first year, then we want to wait until after contract renewal, then after we succeed teaching our first doctrinal class, publishing for the first time, so on and so forth. Very few administrators will tell you to take a time out to focus on your own needs; their top concern is the needs of the school and the needs of the students. You need to explain that you are placing the needs of the school and the students first when you take time off, because you will come back giving 100% everyday, instead of 50% (or 30%) most days.
If you feel like you need permission, I am giving you permission. I am not your boss, your partner, a family member, or a colleague (to most of you). I am a concerned person who has been there, and done that. (RCF)
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