My First Year as Faculty – Midyear Review

This coming week will mark exactly the halfway point of my first year as a faculty member at Seattle Pacific University. I thought I would take a few minutes to reflect on the subtle or not-so-subtle shift from graduate student to faculty member. Soon I will post a bit about what I have begun to glean (through much trial and error!) about teaching itself, but for now I will stick to a few thoughts about the transition into faculty itself.

It so happens that this week was the first time I took time to exercise since I have been teaching. Surviving the first quarter onslaught of class prep, discerning which e-mails to reply to and ignore, trying frantically to pull together some articles (or ONE article) and moving my dissertation into a book was quite an accomplishment. Taking a moment to breathe, enjoying a long lunch and getting some exercise seemed overly indulgent.

In the midst of this I came to realize there was a personal and professional shift I was still struggling to wrap my brain and life around. I am not a student anymore. At first glance this would seem rather obvious. But what I realized was that in my first quarter of teaching I was still operating as a glorified grad student, rushing to read for the next class, frantically pulling together a paper to present, all while juggling family, jobs, etc. My life was determined by countless deadlines and a seemingly constant deficit of time.

I am not sure I could have done much differently, as I have heard countless other stories of the first year faculty members literally holding on by their fingertips to survive. But as I begin to come out of that frenetic pace, I am realizing I was approaching my vocation with the mindset of a student. As a student my goals were rather short-term –turn in a paper to get a grade, get a good grade to get into grad school, write a proposal, write a chapter, finish a dissertation. These are all important goals, but ultimately they served very particular ends.

I approached my first quarter in much the same way –write an article to put on the C.V., entertain students for good evaluations, get a handle on material for a particular class. My days were filled with attempts to complete tasks for the sake of immediate goals. In taking some time to exercise and with some time to think, my muscles still trembling slightly from that unfamiliar feeling of exertion, I saw not momentary tasks that could be completed and filed away, but a life of writing, classes, evaluations, manuscripts, proposals, committee meetings. Rather than feeling dread I felt hope. I felt hope because I realized that these tasks were not being completed for passage into a higher realm, but that they formed the particularities of my calling as a professor and teacher. This was the life I was called to.

Because this was “the life,” I could now settle into a rhythm within it. I was free to take an hour lunch, exercise, take a break to eat lunch with my kids at school. These tasks are part of the rhythm of my life, like making lunches in the morning, helping with homework, mediating my children’s disagreements over Bionicles and the last piece of candy, the day-to-day realities of being university faculty is both the joy of teaching and researching along with the mundane and the frustrating. These are all aspects of the life I had worked so hard for. They are not something to move past but to find joy within.

In the days and weeks to come I am going to do my best to eat my lunch, exercise, stretch as well as prepare for my next article, class, or committee meeting because this is my life now, not a step towards another place. All of its joys and difficulties are not to be looked past but incorporated into the regular beat of my life and calling. I am realizing that I am no longer a student, simply trying to make it through. I am a teacher, a scholar and this does not require skills of survival, but habits that are not dissimilar to those we inhabit as parents. We find joy in surprising moments, discipline through the mundane, and in the midst of it all make space to sit back, breathe and survey the wonder of where we are and what we have been so blessed to do. Someone pays us to teach and write.

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