This evening, before going to talk to a group of English PhD students here at U of T about teaching literary studies, I went to a blog I kept my first couple of years on the job as an academic. The blog is personal and specific and so it is, of course, written under a nom de plume and I will not, of course, supply a link to it here. But I'll write about it.
Quietly I read, sad for the girl who'd written her way through a difficult time, and also a little proud of her as she made discoveries and small steps. As she wrote about teaching tricks and finding time for research and connections she had (and hadn't) made around the university. As she figured things out and as she was ground down; as she got excited and as she was wracked with despair. It was a rollercoaster ride for this girl who was me, and not me, and me. I want to be clear that it wasn't all bad... but on the other hand I'd forgotten until reading the blog again tonite how openly I wore my heart on my sleeve, like bare nerves around the gumlines of sensitive teeth. I recalled, as I read, that over these first two years on the job I (she) also buried a loved grandmother, buried a dear friend, helped to raise a newborn. No wonder I piled on the weight during my first two years. No wonder a cherished relationship didn't stand a chance and fell apart halfway through my first year. I look back at her, at me, from the end of seven years on the job, and wish I could go back to let her (me) know that things would be alright and that these things do add up to something, even if it's not the thing we thought we'd set out to build.
On Sunday 30 April 2006 I made a list on the blog to note the accomplishments and learning of my first year. I thought I'd share that (indulgently, refelctively, a little sadly) tonite.
10 ways the 2nd year is better than the 1st
you know the 'life cycle' of a year (when things are due/ when you'll be busy/ when research can happen/ when to order books etc)
you have ex-students (graduations where you see your babies walk across the stage, students coming back for their 2nd class with you, students taking your classes because of friend's recommendations, students who've finished and come back to tell you what they're up to)
you don't get lost on campus
there's time for research, during the times last year you just sat there panicking!
you know your enemies and allies
you have a complete set of teaching-worthy clothes for every season
personal finances are a little less scary, the further you get away from the years of being a phd student
more people around campus know you're there
teaching my own course has changed my experience of teaching - and i had a good chance to plan book ordering etc properly :)
you get new (newer even than you!) colleagues - you start to realise your colleagues aren't always/ only going to be the ones who were here on your first day - there's something reassuring about the shifting-ness of the sands