Good essay on Teaching,…

Good essay on Teaching, Research, Shame, Magic and Women. It does a good job of summarizing much of the often invisible gender issues in an associate-level academic job -- which, of course, I don't currently have, but may in the future, and nonetheless I can already see in my own career some of the 'feminizing traps' to which she refers. A couple of the points particularly interested me:

  • Women apparently spent 1.5 times as much time on grading as men do. She theorizes that this is because women have to justify their grades more than men do, which I think is interesting. When I first started teaching, I wrote a lot on papers. Then I read an interesting pedagogy article that talked about how, although students certainly do find it satisfying when professors write a lot on their papers, that doesn't necessarily mean that writing a lot helps them. Yes, lots of red ink helps justify that C or D, but if your goal is to actually help them learn, that may not be the best approach. This study found that students tended to shut down when faced with too many corrections -- they didn't know where to start, and so often didn't start at all. Pretty much from the time I read that piece, I've adapted my grading to focus on 1-3 major areas in my critiques of student papers (or creative writing pieces), trying to be clear about what I think they should address next in their revision / writing process. As far as I can tell, that does, in fact, work better for student learning and progress, from paper to paper. Plus, much less labor/time for me, which allows more time for research / child.)

    Do I have to put up with a few complaints from students who don't understand why they got a C instead of the B they expected? Yes. I explain it to them in more detail when I have to, and they quietly go away. I've never had a student try to go over my head and challenge the grade at a higher level. Maybe I've just been lucky. But I think a lot of it has to do with your mannerisms as a teacher. If you can make it clear from the get-go that you're planning to be hard, but fair, and if you can be very clear throughout about your expectations for the course, students generally seem to respect that. (There's a whole other conversation to get into here about 'male' vs. 'female' teaching styles, and the difference between supporting your students and parenting them...but we'll leave that aside for now.)

  • An enlightening part of the piece for me was when she talked about different kinds of service. This is something I have to be wary of, because the truth is, I really enjoy organizing student activities (I just put a couple on my to-do list for 2009). I'm good at it, it feels good doing it -- and I hadn't thought at all about how invisible it probably is on a departmental service level. This isn't so relevant in my current position, which doesn't actually have any service expectations -- I'm doing this service work because I enjoy it, and for the good of my students. But if I ever do get a tenure-track job, the different values assigned to different types of service are definitely worth being aware of. And maybe paying a little attention to even now.

  • But the part that saddened me was this: "To get tenure, it takes a book or more. To write a book takes uninterrupted time. Thinking time. Writing time. Etc. Now, I'll have tenure at 34-35 years of age. I don't have a kid. I'd like to have a kid. Let's imagine I have a kid in the next 5 years or so. How likely is it that I write and bring to publication a book (or equivalent) any time between now and, say, 2015? Not bloody likely, right? I mean, sure, it could happen, but probably this would be very difficult, given the fact that come hell or high water it's in my contract to teach 4 courses a semester, and given the fact that babies are time-consuming and make it hard to do things like think deep thoughts.

    "Now, let's imagine instead that I'm a dude of the same age. First, there's no rush to have a baby in the next five years. I could easily put it off until I got full, and all would be well. No worries about the menopause or about being "high risk" a few years down the road. Or even let's say I did have a baby, and I were a dude, in that 5 year span. Ostensibly, I'd have somebody else being the primary caregiver of my kid. (Obviously, I'm generalizing, but I think the generalization is not an unfair one.)"

    And this is sad because while she acknowledges the generalization at the end, she does seem to take this assumption for granted, that a male faculty member with a small child would have a female partner who was primary caregiver. And I think she's probably right, that this has been very much the case across the board, and probably still is, for the most part. But I really want to believe that this is changing. Because Kevin and I -- we split it 50/50, right down the middle, the best we can. And I'm pretty sure many of our dual-career academic couple colleagues are trying to do the same. It's not easy, and it's especially not easy when it's not the default assumption, when Kevin would get more flak for, say, bringing Kavi in to class when the babysitter is sick than I would. But the more het couples that do split it 50/50, the easier it'll be for all of us, men AND women.

    Yes, I know how lucky I am. On the one hand, I expect equality from my partner. But on the other, I do want to acknowledge that Kevin is consciously choosing to give up privilege for the sake of the equality he believes in. It's a hell of a lot of privilege, and he does it tremendously graciously. (For the most part. :-)

  • Finally, I wanted to point to this, in her hypothetical example of being a male professor parent: "On top of that, I wouldn't have the cultural baggage about being a bad mother weighing me down if I went into the office to work." Because this, it's very real. For the most part, I'm fine with the fact that I love my work, I think it's socially valuable, and it makes me much happier to be doing it. But there are certainly times when I wonder if Kavi is being shortchanged in some strange and inexplicable way. I don't think so -- but that doesn't keep me from asking Kevin periodically if he thinks I'm a bad mother. Starting tomorrow, we move to five full days/week of babysitting. That's a lot of work time / non-Kavi time. We'll see how it goes.

6 thoughts on “Good essay on Teaching,…”

  1. I also spend a lot of time on grading. I think that the nature of comments, rather than their lengths, is what is relevant to how helpful they are. But, I cannot figure out how colleagues who grade quickly, or leave most of it to TA’s, get any idea of what their students really need in classes and what is just boring them.

  2. Another thing here is that I often make comments on papers not solely for students’ benefit. If a student asks me why a problem was graded a certain way, it takes me longer to read the student’s work again and figure out my reasoning than it does to read what I wrote before I reread the student’s work. This is really helpful in large classes (100 or so) where I grade tests by hand.

  3. This mother guilt thing is proof that none of us escapes irrational social pressures, isn’t it? Of course being there enough for our kids to have a real relationship is critical – but equally obviously “enough” is quite different for different parent-child pairings.

    One of the things I keep in mind when I start feeling the pressure is that one of my main jobs is to show my children how to live. Do I want my kids to grow up believing that adults live their lives for their kids, or do I want them to see that children are a part of our lives, and us a part of theirs?

    Oh, and as a small note from the other side, the only time I have been truly infuriated by a marker (on an essay) was when more than half the pages had not a mark on them (the whole middle of the essay) – no tick, no “good”, “ok”, “could be better expressed”, nothing to indicate she had actually *read* the thing. I can work with most levels of comment, but that felt pointless.

  4. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Ariane, that’s a good point — as a writer, I do know the frustration of getting manuscripts back from editors without a single comment, and wondering if they’d actually read them. I do usually sprinkle those check marks and ‘good’ comments throughout (when warranted), but it’s good to be reminded of that purpose for them, just to reassure the student that yes, I’m paying attention to every line of their deathless prose. 🙂

    David, I’m not sure I need the same sorts of cues as you do for grading papers — my classes are much smaller (25 or so max) and I usually know exactly why each paper got the grade it did. Although granted, if a student came back several months later, it might take me a bit longer to figure out without detailed comments; I’d essentially have to re-read and re-grade it. But I can do that, and so far, in any case, this just doesn’t seem to come up for me.

  5. Love the 50/50 splitting. I am a European living in Canada, and quite shocked about the general attitude about women’s roles in North America. I’ll try to make it short and specific: It is a lot of work to be a mother. It is a lot more work than any manager’s job. In any case, with a supportive husband or as a single mom. Just think of the sleep deprivation when children are small.

    Many mothers have mother guilt. The only way out of this, even with a husband and sharing household chores/babysitting, is to make friends with other mothers. Listening and talking is good, mutual support and/or babysitting even better. Parents also need couple time, a romantic evening out etc.

    If there’s money to pay a cleaning lady or babysitter, the better. No guilt about that, please.

    Kind relatives like a grandma, e.g., would help a lot but often aren’t available.

    A single mom for the last eight years, my twins now sixteen years old, I am convinced that children need more than only their mom or their parents. Friends who like kids, are great, even if they only come for dinner.

    The smaller the children are, the more time one should spend with them. But not all the time. The idea of a woman sacrificing her life is as outdated in my opinion as the idea of a woman managing work-life-balance with kids easily. It isn’t easy, even with a lot of money.

    Often, we can only manage step by step. I came to the conclusion that it is vital for women to learn how to do something nice for ourselves, even when work and kids seem to demand all of the time.

    And, if you ask yourself, whether you are a bad mother, I would even dare to say, you just can’t be or else you’d know. Or not care in the first place.

    I often see life as a process of learning to love oneself. Many women are good at loving and nurturing and catering to others, to everybody else except themselves. Who will appreciate how much work you do to raise your child, if you don’t? Your husband might, fair enough, but what about society?

    Love your photo with the baby,

    take care

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