Settling In

A couple of weeks ago, I remember thinking, “Graduate school was the easy part.” I still think that, and I’m not kidding. at. all.

We’ve had four weeks of school now, and I’ve been loving it all. That’s the first thing I want to say in this long-overdue reflection about the new job. My students are incredible – they’re engaged, they’re curious, they’re hardworking, and they are genuinely appreciative of teachers’ efforts. My colleagues are wonderful, and I feel like I’ve found a great environment for me.

I’m thrilled to be where I am, but I won’t lie and say it’s been the easiest transition. I think that transitioning out of graduate school into a new job – whatever it might be – is a difficult venture. For me, switching gears after six years of something entirely different has definitely been an adjustment. It’s a welcome adjustment, but it’s a change nonetheless.

In grad school, I spent my first year learning to adjust to the reading and writing load and the pace. In my second year, it was about balancing two courses as a student with one course as a teaching assistant (plus preparing for exams and figuring out my dissertation topic). In year three, it was a lot like the year before – but with even more pressure on exams and dissertation prep. In years 4, 5, and 6, it was a combo of switching to the dissertation mode, continuing to teach, and then alternating responsibilities that involved applying for grants, conducting research, and job searching. None of that is easy, but it also has – in many ways – a more singular focus than I think most people would find in their first job after completing a PhD (whether you’re talking a career like I’ve chosen or a more typical tenure-track approach, or even a transition to a corporate-style position, whatever that may be).

The past month has been about learning to juggle preps for 3 different courses, figuring out students’ names (and strengths and weaknesses and personalities), planning on a weekly basis and revising those plans daily, trying to look ahead to the “big picture” for the trimester to keep things on track, adapting to a new community and participating in that community, keeping up with the reading, keeping up with the grading, and wading through many, many more emails than I’ve been used to in awhile. And that just scratches the surface, as I haven’t even mentioned the element of interacting with co-workers and parents and administrators to meet various other obligations.

It’s a lot. And I imagine my cohort member from grad school who just started a tenure-track job this fall is probably finding himself in similar shoes, but who knows.

So that’s my big take-away: that graduate school was the easy part, and if you think it’s going to get easier or simpler after you have the PhD in hand, you’re very wrong. It gets more complex. This isn’t a bad thing – it just is. I find this new complexity very rewarding: I feel like I’m “firing on all cylinders,” by which I mean that the diversity of things I’m doing seem to satisfy me on various levels professionally. This is a very, very good thing.

At least, I feel like it’s a good thing when the idea of grading 20 papers didn’t even phase me this weekend. Earlier in the week, I’d been hoping to have everything done before the weekend, but then I realized that some assignment deadlines and some upcoming personal commitments made the idea of having a work-free weekend impossible. And I was pleased to discover that I really didn’t mind: I spent a good eight hours this weekend reading papers and prepping for sophomore history classes this week, and Ioved (almost) every minute of it. This weekend, I graded their first major written assessment, and part of the reason it was so rewarding was that I was able to see how well they acquired information in this unit on World War I. It was also a fun challenge to think about their writing strengths and weaknesses and to identify strategies to help them improve as we move forward.

In other words, I felt like I wasn’t just assessing their work, but also identifying ways to help them improve as writers. And that was an awesome feeling.

In case you’re curious, my current courseload includes 2 sections of sophomore history (20th century world history), 1 section of AP US History, and 1 section of junior English (American Literature). In sophomore history, we’re about to move to the interwar years, which means lots of great stuff to talk about starting with the Russian Revolution. In AP, we’re working on the American Revolution and reading Gordon Wood and Edmund Morgan. And in lit, we just wrapped up Walt Whitman and will spend this week with Emily Dickinson before we switch to The Scarlet Letter (where I’m thinking we’ll spend some time thinking about how stories get rewritten for popular consumption, perhaps comparing various film adaptations of that story).

This? This is the life.

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5 thoughts on “Settling In

  1. So glad you are enjoying the experience. That ‘firing on all cylinders’ is just amazing, isn’t it? And that you can already see student progress? Outstanding. Congratulations.

    Yes, grad school was the easy bit.

  2. It definitely was a lot more work than grad school. Grad school was deep thought and deep learning. You’re still learning deeply as you start a job but, boy!, you’re hard-pressed to string more than two thoughts together on anything beyond preparation and actual classroom duties! Your classes sound like marvellous opportunities, though: enjoy them!

  3. Hi Tanya,
    Highly enjoy your blog! It was a pleasure for my wife and I to meet you at Wash U. at a grad student tech workshop last August. We are both exploring teaching in high-quality schools (art for her, social studies for me), and would love to chat when you have opportunity. Wishing you all the best this fall!

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