Monday, March 9, 2009

So How Do You Like Your New Job?


People ask me what it's like in my new position as Director of Instruction, and whether I miss being in the classroom after having spent my entire adult life teaching kids. What I find myself telling people is this: yes, I do miss being in the classroom. I miss the daily interaction with kids, and I miss the sense of continuity that comes with staying with one primary set of goals with 20 people pretty much every day for a semester. In my new position, I have many more things on the agenda, a greater range of things coming at me each day. I have a number of groups and individuals with whom I meet once a week or once every two weeks, and often by the time I cycle back to one group or issue, I have trouble remembering where we left off the last time, so in some ways it feels like I have to keep starting over.

Which is not to say that I'm unhappy in my new position. I like being in on discussions that help me understand how the school as a whole operates. I like the people I work with. I like the challenge of trying to sort out all the pieces and then trying to put them together into something that makes sense. I hadn't thought about this until just now as I was writing it, but in some ways, the work I've been doing with art is the analogue of what I'm doing during the day: trying to pay attention to what's in front of me, taking found materials and trying to arrange them in my mind, making connections and trying to shape something that has some structural continuity and makes sense. Maybe what I like about the process of making artworks is that I have more of a sense of personal control: all of the decisions are my own, whereas in my daily life I'm interacting with dozens of people all of whom are bringing something to the table. That's not a bad thing, but it does complicate things. I've arrived at a point where if you were to ask me for an explanation about just about anything going on on our campus right now — the one-to-one laptop program, the sustainability initiative, the leadership institute, the service learning program, the entrepreneurs-in-residence program, our attempts to provide support for students with learning differences, the K-1 initiative, the WASC self-study, or any one of a dozen other things going on over and above our regular curricular and co-curricular programs — my answer would probably start with the words, "Well, it's complex..." My job, it turns out, is to be the guy who tries to sort through the complexities and figure out how it all works. Which is fine by me. It's interesting, challenging work.

And yes, it's true, I certainly don't mind not having two or three hours worth of papers to correct every night like I did for the previous forty years. That's the thing that people outside the teaching profession don't get. As a teacher I made a commitment to myself and to my students to get any papers I assigned to them back the next day, or within two days at the outside. I never quite saw the point of assigning work to students and then getting it back to them too late for them to be able to apply what they had learned from whatever feedback I gave to them on the next assignment. I think it's critically important that kids write regularly, but it's just as important that they get the writing back quickly so that they can make adjustments as they go along. So I put that sword over my own head, and, when I go back to the classroom, I'll put it there again. But sure I don't mind that it's not there now.

1 comment:

Ken Ronkowitz said...

I left the secondary classroom in 2000 for "higher" education and an admin in instructional technology position.

My old teaching friends said, "Well, if you're tired of teaching, then you should change positions." But what the thing I was NOT tired of was teaching - that is, being in front of students and teaching. I WAS very tired of all the rest of the job (testing, grading papers, parent conferences...) and it seemed that all of that was becoming a bigger & bigger part of the life.

Do I regret the move? No. I still get to teach a bit (as an adjunct & workshops).

Do I have a greater impact by working with faculty? No. My greatest impact was as a classroom teacher.

Did I make the right move in 2000? Yes.