It’s that time of the year again. School hasn’t quite started yet, but the planning has begun. Because I won’t be hearing about whether or not I have a new job (and thus throwing any planning we do now out the window), we are planning like I’m going to be here in the fall, teaching five sections of freshman writing, like I do every fall.
Routines are so important for our family; with two kids under the age of five, a certain level of predictability is important. Also, my son is particularly sensitive to changes in his routine (his times and eat and sleep are pretty rigid, and set by him – beware if you break them too often). Professionally, between my husband, who is on the tenure-track, and me, who is trying to maintain my research portfolio with a heavy teaching load, negotiating a routine is essential so we can get all of our work done.
This year, though, there are a number of changes that we have to take into consideration when trying to set a routine for the fall. My daughter is starting Kindergarten (!!) and her school day is different than what we were used to at the preschool (earlier start and earlier finish). I’ve also consolidated all of my classes into a T-Th schedule, starting at 8 AM and teaching all five back-to-back. And, I have a book to write.
Like the beginning of every semester, I’m trying to find some time to work out (hopefully swim) so I can take better care of myself, both physically and mentally. I always make promises to myself and to my family (more time together! Date nights! Family outings!) but they always seem to end up coming in a distant second to professional concerns and sheer exhaustion. So far the plan is for my husband to get the kids off to school every morning so I can go and swim, then I will be responsible for being home/picking them up after school. Until, of course, something comes up that changes things.
But there are routines that I find harder and harder to bear, in which I find no comfort. The routine of increased class sizes due to record enrollment paired with hiring freezes. The routine of upping the assessment and reporting burden without any added resources. The repeated and repeating rhetoric of Excellence Without Money. The routine of the debt that never seem to get paid down. I understand that these are pressure we’re all facing in higher education, but it hurts those of us off the tenure-track just a little bit more. And they have become such commonplace routines that we have grown accustomed to them, accepting of them.
I need to decide this upcoming academic year how I’m going to change (or at least handle) those routines that are no longer tenable. Part of the problem is that we, collectively, have accepted these elements of our lives and jobs as just simply routine; those of us who look to upset that routine are seen as complainers and troublemakers. When I moved across the country for my tenure-track job, I didn’t get paid for the first six weeks I was there, and then only ended up getting paid for six when I should have been paid for eight. When I tried to get anyone to help me start getting paid sooner, everyone just shrugged their shoulders and told me that this was basically routine for that place; even the union couldn’t get the administrative wheels to turn more quickly. Knowing that was “routine” procedure made the decision to leave a little easier.
Routines are supposed to make life more manageable. But routine can also wear us down. I have to embrace the former and learn how to expunge the latter.
We all do.