A fascinating part of working in an academic setting at San Jacinto College is that I am surrounded by incredibly intelligent, driven people. Faculty and administrators devoted years of their lives to formal study in their discipline; and students are motivated to emulate these intellectuals and chart their own course. In any given day, I may hear faculty, as subject matter experts seriously debating the current political climate, discussing the upcoming baseball season, explaining the chemical combinations of fast food, or considering the modern need for ancient philosophical treatises. All with a verve often missing in other sectors of my everyday life.
And yet, I occasionally hear colleagues lament the routine nature of their jobs. A standard teaching load at the community college is five classes a semester, a number that amazes my university faculty friends. Even with the most stringent attention to limiting the number of participants in a class, that’s typically over 100 students who range from eager to diffident every four months or so without even contemplating the dizzying array of different parts of term now available to match student needs. At times, however, even this ever-changing, dynamic environment can become static. Teaching multiple sections of the same course requires faculty to have nimble minds (and lots of sticky notes) to ensure all students receive the information and explanations they need. The pace is fast; the participants are new; the topics are interesting.
So if working with scholars, artists, economists, and scientists who get to engage with up-and-coming practitioners and like-minded colleagues in a discipline they love isn’t enough to keep a workplace motivated organically, how can anyone hope to stay engaged?
It’s all in the perspective. All jobs have elements of drudgery or less-than-fascinating tasks associated with them. Faculty have administrative duties so the institution can comply with state and federal laws as well as various accrediting agencies and funding sources who act as watchdogs to ensure students are receiving what they need from their education. The most effective, engaging, and satisfied faculty I know have long-practiced routines in place to take care of these mundane chores (think: attendance rosters, back up grade records, and office hour schedules). These faculty have established a pattern because they know that while routine tasks are important for some aspect of running the institution, their main job is to encourage, nurture, and challenge the individual students sitting in their classes. Routine tasks taken care of efficiently allow super-star faculty to create new examples and innovative ways to help students connect with complex material in the classroom.
These internally motivated champions don’t dwell on the boring tasks, but nor are they surprised by them as if they didn’t realize they would have to dedicate time to set up a new grade record each term. Fretting over these jobs doesn’t make them go away. Checking them off the ever-present list, however, allows faculty time and energy to focus on the fascinating elements of their job—especially when working directly with the future.
Dr. Ann M. Pearson is Assistant Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at San Jacinto College (TX), where she’s currently working with Accreditation & Assessment. She was an English faculty member for 25 years, with 7 of those at SJC. She occasionally returns to the SJC English Department as an adjunct faculty member.