Walking the Line, part 1.5: Exhaustion

Yesterday’s post was meant to explore the role of authority in HE teaching. As you may have noticed, there was no post yesterday. This is due to exhaustion.

I love teaching, and I am very fortunate that I am teaching subjects and themes that complement my current research. Not all teaching fellows are as lucky as I am. Nonetheless, when it came to putting pen to paper, or rather, fingertips to keyboard, on Wednesday night, I found that I simply did not have the energy.

This week was my first full week of teaching. I

  • Led 13 seminar groups of 12 students each
  • Delivered 2 lectures on new topics
  • Wrote 2 (additional) lectures on new topics
  • Worked through mountains of administrative paperwork

This was in addition to:

  • Continuing preparation for my upcoming workshop on Network Science in Historical Research
  • Completing 2 funding / fellowship applications
  • Meeting with the departmental post-doctoral reading group
  • Continuing my current research project
  • Continuing to write up my previous research project, and
  • Having my departmental photograph taken

Not to mention little things such as eating, sleeping and acknowledging my family and friends still exist.

As I sit here, rest and recovery finally in reach, I have come to the conclusion that no matter how much preparation you think you have done in the preceding weeks or months, something will always throw you for a loop during that first week. Yet, despite the utter, crushing exhaustion, this week has taught me several important things about surviving (hopefully thriving) as a teaching fellow.

  1. You will have to reorganise seminar groups for at least 30% of your students over the course of the first week. Using the word ‘final’ at any stage is merely tempting fate.
  2. At least 50% of your down time will be spent in administration, so its best to schedule this explicitly into your schedule. Optimistically earmarking off-hours as ‘research’ will only depress you when they are spent reorganising seminar groups for the 6th time.
  3. Just because a room fits 10 chairs does not mean it will comfortably fit 10 people.
  4. The one student who admits that your module was not (remotely) her first choice will not devastate your self-esteem.
  5. You should never take your departmental photograph after 6 hours of teaching.
  6. If the seminar discussion (or lecture) has naturally concluded, letting your students leave 5-10 minutes early is not a failure.
  7. If you mistakenly ask questions relating to next week’s reading material, your students probably won’t correct you.
  8. There is always at least one name on the roster you have no hope of pronouncing correctly. 
  9. Students expect you to hold the power in seminar discussion. You do not need to demand it and you probably won’t be able to relinquish it.
  10. Permanent and research staff genuinely do appreciate your efforts and will sympathise with your exhaustion. 
Next week, Walking the Line, part 2: Authority.

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