Monday, June 01, 2009

Summer school teaching, the absence of

For a variety of reasons this year, I didn't get to teach summer school even though I put in for it. This is the first time in several years that I'm not teaching a summer school class. Yes, it's taking a hit in my travel funds, the reason I teach every summer, but I've been fortunate enough to have some small grants this year to make up for it.

I didn't think it would make a difference in terms of time, since I try to teach the same class each year (an online one), so although there's some time spent in getting the materials together and grading, it's not like teaching a whole new prep. No big deal, right?

I was wrong, and here's why.
  • Without teaching to take up that time, I don't feel that I have to reward myself by "treating" myself to fun sites and am spending a lot less time web surfing.
  • Without grading, I don't have any way to procrastinate about writing; there's no "well, I have to get these papers back to them, so I can't write today."
  • Since I don't have to check email constantly to see if students are contacting me, I can ignore it with a clear conscience--or turn it off entirely because there's nothing from colleagues that can't wait.
  • I'm also finding out the truth of Winifred Gallagher's advice to sit down for 90 minutes of uninterrupted time early in the morning, since the intervals of attention I can pay to the writing diminish during the day.
  • This works even better if I get up and go for a long walk very early, before sitting down to write, since that helps with the "get me out of this chair!" twitchiness that can otherwise occur.
By now you're probably nodding and saying "Of course you can write better if you're not teaching, too! Duh!" But you see, I thought the two were compartmentalized, that the time I was devoting to teaching wasn't having an effect (except in terms of time) on the writing. I was convinced that with sufficient time management skills I could do both.

What I've learned is that with sufficient time management skills I can do both--but there's no solution to mustering sufficient attention management skills except not to have the huge attention elephant of teaching a class at the same time in the room. It's a little humbling to realize that rationally compartmentalizing your time doesn't have any discernible effect on how much you can actually get done.


Horace said...

I've actually found that it's not time, per se, that keeps me from writing during the semester or other teaching times. It's the mental resources: energy, focus, and interest.

So even when I had time during summers when I've taught, I still wasn't able to write much. Clear aside everything else, and you do indeed have fewer excuses for where those resources may have gone.

Anonymous said...

YES. Mental resources and attention.

And YES on the early morning walk and then the 90 minutes.

(YES I will yes ... I believe a novel ends that way ... I want my project to see and end one day ...)

Ink said...

Although I'm sorry that you didn't get summer teaching because you put in for it, it does sound like you are experiencing a cool kind of freedom. And the walk-then-write, plan sounds heavenly.

Time to clear one's head, to breathe, is incredibly good for us and, I suspect, good for the writing as well.

undine said...

Horace and profacero, I think you're right. I'd been assuming somehow that time = attention and that if I made the time, the attention would follow. That didn't happen; you do need mental resources.

Ink, you're right--it is kind of heavenly.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I agree about the early morning writing time. I've extended it to about four hours -- 7AM to 11AM... after which my mental energy has to go elsewhere.

I've really enjoyed my non-teaching time... but, since I have a law student hubby to support, I'm not sad that I'll start teaching in a couple of weeks.