Happy Academic New Year!

Only 5 more days until the fall term starts at University of Maryland. That means my lazy summer days writing and researching in t-shirts and flip flops while sipping green tea are coming to an end. It is bittersweet. I am super excited to get back into the classroom. Like jittery and happy because of the potential fun learning that I know is going to happen excited. But also sad because now the time I have to focus on my personal scholarship and research is more limited.

The start of fall term is a sort of Academic New Year, although we can’t really take the day off. It is a fresh start with new classes, new instructors, new students, and sometimes new research projects or service responsibilities. Also, a time to reflect on what we could have done better last year and what we will try to change in the coming year. I don’t make long lists – those get reserved unfortunately for daily tasks – but here are 4 things I’d like to work on this year.

Telling students to “Look it up!” for themselves rather than doing this for them because I’m in a rush, frustrated, etc. ad nauseum. My job is to help students learn. When I look up answers for them, they do not learn how to find information for themselves – a singularly important skill in the Information Age. It is okay to guide them towards answers and help them to put what they find into context, but no more looking things up or cutting and pasting syllabus info into emails. Not reading the syllabus is a perennial problem. I’ve tried no-stakes syllabus quizzes, syllabus scavenger hunts, reading through on the first day, but there will always be that one student.

No more multi-tasking. I tell my students all the time that research shows humans are not good at multi-tasking – usually while I’m discussing my policies for tech use in the classroom. So, why don’t I take my own advice? Juggling various work and personal/family responsibilities is not easy and there are things in life that sometimes you just need to bite-the-bullet and complete like regular medical exams, paying bills, putting time into valued personal relationships, taking care of loved ones, meeting work deadlines for APT or teaching duties, etc. (hmmm… many of these seem personal, which makes it worse since I’m either delaying, avoiding, or half-assing stuff that gives me good physical, mental, and emotional health). When I try to do to much simultaneously I get paralyzed or each individual task is done poorly. Multi-tasking is not good for me, my personal life, or my job.

Lucy & Ethel’s famous chocolate factory scene highlight why trying to do too many things simultaneously is a bad idea.

Just say no more often. Lots of really cool and amazing opportunities come up all the time. But I can’t say yes to everything or I won’t be able to say yes to the opportunities that I really want. I think I’ve been strategic career-wise, but my experiences with multi-tasking suggest otherwise. Saying no is a lifelong struggle for many of us, especially if we feel the need to make everyone happy… but ourselves. Learning to say no gracefully and finally is a difficult one for me personally, but a skill I need. My husband likes to remind me that it is not my job to make people happy, it is my job to do research and help people learn.

Read and write every day. Sounds like a no-brainer for a scholar, but it isn’t necessarily. As a kid, I used to sight read my music for lessons if I didn’t practice that week. I thought myself quite clever. As an adult and teacher, though, I am 100% sure that my music teacher knew and was rolling their eyes after my lesson was over. It made me anxious as a kid to pull this stunt, and not engaging with my discipline’s literature or even just reading for fun makes me anxious and feeling behind. When I trained for marathons, I planned and scheduled out runs for months in advance. On the day of the race, the running was exhilarating up until mile 20 and then the rote habit of one foot in front of the other kept me going until I crossed the finish line. For me, reading and writing are like physical exercise or music practice in that I need to schedule in time and then do it! If not, I’ll skim and bullet point everything. That means that the major milestones like grant proposals, journal articles, and that book I’d like to write someday won’t happen (without a lot of crying and frustration).

I’ve put my resolutions out into the internet ether to try and hold myself accountable. Let’s hope this works.

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