Thursday December 29, 2005

Collapsed in a Heap

Whew!  I hadn't thought I was going to make it, but the Quarter From Hell is over, Christmas with the families went as smoothly as could be expected, and I've actually got a few days of calm before the next, not nearly so hellish quarter begins (and is then immediately interrupted by LSA 2006).  Time to do the several quarters of filing that's arranged in various stacks around the house, I guess.

I hadn't expected fall quarter to be as busy as it was, but TAing on top of a full course load turned out to be quite a grind.  What with classes and sections on top of assorted colloquia and roundtables, I was on campus pretty consistently from 8 to 6 every day, after which I got to go home and actually do my own coursework.  Things went from crazy to "Danger, Will Robinson!" when my computational linguistics class project turned into a group project halfway through the quarter.  I'll spare you the details, but let me just say that I'm pretty sure Sartre was talking about trying to coordinate a group software project when he said, "Hell is other people" (or rather L'Enfer, c'est les Autres).

How busy was I?  The Tuesday of finals week, I had the following: a typology paper (about Hungarian word order) due, a traditional English grammar final exam to administer and grade, and the final report on the aforementioned software project due.  I finished the Hungarian paper the night before, along with the final exam—thank God for campus copy services, who ran the whole thing off in an hour just before closing.  I also arranged things so that my contribution to the final report was to generate statistics under various conditions over the weekend, so I didn't actually need to contribute anything on Tuesday.  That left the whole day for administering and correcting the final.  I and my co-TA started correcting at 10:30, and we pushed straight on through, stopping for a half-hour of lunch, until we had the exams all corrected and entered into our spreadsheets, and the students' final grades computed and entered into the official scantron sheets.

That left two days to write my final paper (about the Whorf Hypothesis) for my history of linguistics class.  Fortunately, I'd been doing the background reading—interesting stuff; Whorf ideas were weirder than I'd expected—for several weeks, and my ideas were pretty well-formed.  In fact, the paper turned out more coherent than I expected (although not so coherent, I think, that I'm willing to put it up on the Web).  Imagine, if you can, the smug satisfaction I felt when my grades came through last week: 4.0s across the board.

Next quarter I'm just taking two classes—no more teaching for a while.  I enjoyed actually teaching in the classroom, but not all the preparation and paperwork that surrounds it.  Even when the subject is interesting (and I think traditional English grammar is interesting), teaching is a big time sink.  I wish it fit more comfortably into my schedule, but the university policy that TAs have to also carry a full course load makes that impossible.

I think I understand how that policy makes sense, given the confluence of the interests of grad student employees, the university, and the department, but I don't have to like it.  Grad students want to be able to support themselves with teaching or research.  The university wants this too, so it gives tuition waivers to grad student employees; however, it's worried that some students will stick around forever using up resources, so it requires that they not delay their academic progress while teaching.  It seems like a catch 22: the quarters where you'll be extra busy with teaching or research are the only quarters you're required to carry a full course load.  This would seem to leave open the possibility, if like me you're mostly looking for teaching experience, of teaching without getting paid, but it's in the interest of neither the grad students nor the department to allow such an arrangement.  The grad student employee union would frown upon unpaid competition, and the department doesn't want to give the impression it can do n+1 TAs worth of work on a budget for only n TAs.

So, I enjoyed teaching, but it was really a grind, and I don't think I'll be doing it again unless I can figure out a way to make it fit into my schedule better.  A research job can, after all, be squeezed into various extra hours late at night and on the weekends, which means I might get to spend some time with The Wife, read some books for fun, rent an occasional movie, and maybe post here a little more often.

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
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Congratulations on finishing the term!

Is there going to be a bloggers meeting in Albuquerque this year? I don't know who's going apart from you and me. I'm happy to organise something if there's interest, although my regular anggarrgoon site is down (I think someone turned off the server for the holidays...).

Posted by: Claire at Dec 30, 2005 2:31:50 PM

Is there going to be a bloggers meeting in Albuquerque this year? I don't know who's going apart from you and me.

I haven't given it any thought, but it's a good idea. My only firm plans had been to show up to your talk (5:00 on Thursday, right?) and heckle you by asking questions that begin "Dr. Bowern, would you have us believe..." and that are liberally sprinkled with "so-called".

I'll make a post about the get-together and see who's interested.

Posted by: The Tensor at Dec 31, 2005 2:47:37 AM

Oh good, I like hecklers. Yep, Thursday at 5.

Posted by: Claire at Dec 31, 2005 12:03:06 PM