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What Not Teaching Offers

posted: 8.27.09 by archived

It sounds odd discussing how not teaching can impact our teaching in a positive way — and it feels even stranger to raise the issue.  I love teaching, and I become very passionate when I talk about it, yet I have discovered that with my not teaching in the coming year, I am able to reflect and think about the exact same activities that our colleagues are currently engaged in.  They are writing syllabi, generating lesson plans, answering questions, and attempting to keep their course materials fresh and current.  Many of them are starting to feel the stress of teaching again, wondering where the summer went, and so forth.  Since I am not teaching, I see just how much time I am not investing in those areas and how much of my teaching strategies I cannot see when I’m actually in the classroom.

Even though I only taught for three years, I quickly lost track of how quickly teaching and preparing for classes integrated itself into my life.  Only by not teaching have I really noticed how much of my attention it had commanded.  Now I have time to read, research, and do other things that were simply not as viable or possible when teaching.  When I taught, the work became second-nature and I started to take for granted the time commitment, the endless syllabus revision, and the search for new and engaging readings.  Not teaching gives me valuable perspective on just how much work goes into preparing for classes and the entire process of teaching. This shift also reflects just how easy it can be to assimilate into the lifestyle of teaching and working in academia.

Not teaching also provides distance to step away from my pedagogy and reevaluate just what I think I am doing.  Now as a not teacher, I have more distance from instruction; I think less about specific students, and my tools are much at rest. While it is important to discuss pedagogy and teaching as they are happening so that we can refer to real-life examples and specific details, it is also important to view our pedagogy and our practice while at rest, while not involved. This is akin to having a map that shows where you are and where you are going; every now and then, it is important to triangulate and confirm your location.  If we focus on affirming our location and goals — what our students need, how we teach, what our pedagogy is, or the purpose of education — without confirming our point of origin and our purpose for the journey, we will, at best, waste a lot of effort.  Having a chance to stop, breathe, and analyze why I am doing what I am doing is good: it offers distance from the experience, it allows my brain to relax and rest, and it provides a chance to evaluate my efforts more objectively. Doing so helps me locate my weaknesses and develop them so that my future students will not have to pay for my oversight.

Having time to rework what I think is important about learning and teaching — especially when it comes to writing — is a luxury not available to everyone, especially to adjuncts who are on the financial edge.  However, sometimes we are forced into breaks from teaching or new opportunities take us away from the teaching world.  We can make the most of not teaching by using some of that time away to reflect on the larger pedagogical issues at stake, the role of teaching first year composition in our careers, and, most importantly, how our students are changing so that our teaching can adjust in turn.

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Campus Issues, Gregory Zobel, Teaching Advice
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