Teaching, Research, Intersections

After spending quite a few years trying hard to be a good teacher (even picking up a couple of Dean’s awards and an individual ALTC along the way) I have realised that it has earned very little capital in the scheme of things. Students might have valued it, though that has, anecdotally, been very mixed. But students are transitory in the political ecology of the university department. Teaching is terribly intensive, a whirlpooling sink of energy, time, activity and unfurled busyness. Preparation, cognitive time, actual teaching, the black beast of assessment, and now the top down intensive micro-management of subject guides, results, moderation, assessment, with rounds of meetings, measurement, compliance. An autocracy of auditing masquerading as good pedagogy.

The capital that counts is only research. Yes, I can seek promotion largely based on my teaching, but it is an industrial fact of the university that as you ascend you teach less, that teaching is the labour that is removed by all the mechanisms of support (we buy out our teaching, or become more research active which means less teaching, and the most prestigious academic positions are research only ones), and is what is treated as ‘disposable’ so out sourced to the proletarian services of the ‘sessional’. As best I can tell people will give me six months leave to do research, but not six months leave to become a better teacher.

This semester my teaching has stepped back to one of low engagement and just in time delivery. How I have taught has been, well, open, speculative, experimental, emergent, sort of polyphonic, or is that polymorphous? Quite intensive with a lot of weaving outside of class as I would skim 130+ blogs via RSS writing posts curating, collecting, commenting on stuff. Half way through this semester I just stopped. I have a long essay that is proving difficult, it needs attention. I have many more that I want to write so something needs to change.

The sad reality is that nearly all academic labour, research and administrative, is soft. You can time shift it to another time, another day, hell in many cases another month. Things move around this and it is rare that something ‘breaks’ because of a missed date. This is not the case with teaching. A 10:30 lecture is hard time. Tutes and workshops, resolutely fixed in time and place. Results must be entered by a hard deadline because there is an enormous administrative apparatus that mechanically runs to the undergraduate schedule. Grades, enrolment, exclusions, awards, prerequisites, progress review, at risk procedures, transfers, sessional budgets. You can’t time shift this, put it aside for a bit. It dictates your calendar, time, attention. (Postgraduate supervision, in contrast, is utterly malleable.) Everything else gets squeezed amongst this, spread thinly in the remainders. The effect is that research becomes piecemeal and so we end up with an economy of needing to reduce, minimise, lessen teaching if you want to try for compelling research. The solution is simple. Make teaching as soft as research, flip that model, so that from the delivery side, from the point of view of the teacher, teaching moves from being an industrial occupation of time and units (number of students, assessment tasks, delivered counted hours – no one in a university measures your research labour by how many hours you spend doing it, yet this is our default measure for teaching labour) to an engaged co-labour of learning. Make it about serious outcomes (most assessment activities – and lets not even start on the implications of siloing learning into brief chunked subjects – are ersatz placeholders masquerading as outcomes) that meet perhaps peer review and measure and perform our learning there and not this industrial clock on clock off of the timetable, subject, unit.

I have become selfish. Keeping my time to myself, saying no to students, dropping those actions that modelled real learning and research, not because I don’t believe but because spending my time there earns me so little institutionally. I