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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Motherhood After Tenure: Having the "summer off"
June 15, 2011 - 9:52pm

I know I should write about the recent political events in Wisconsin, but honestly I don’t have the heart. Instead I will describe my summer so far, perhaps as a way of extending recent conversations about workload and also to address common misconceptions that teachers and professors “have the summers off.”

For a variety of reasons, I have been out of town more often than not. A combination of job interviews, conferences, and paid gigs have made me into the absent parent. This spring I missed my daughter’s school performances, teacher conference, and much of her birthday. Other years I would feel lots of mama-guilt about this, but right now I don’t. As I explained to my daughter, mama has to go out of town to earn money for the family. She gets it.

This week I’m in Louisville, Kentucky grading AP exams. I had heard it was grueling work, but also that it is filled with camaraderie; both reports are true. But I am here to offset the effects of state budget cuts and furloughs. As the primary breadwinner for my family, I am, for the first time, finding it difficult to balance our budget.

The AP experience is a cross between factory work and summer camp. For eight hours we sit in large fluorescently-lit rooms read stacks of pink booklets, but in between we are herded along from activity to activity and at every meal there are lively conversations and friendships are made. I am here along with hundreds of high school and college teachers.

Rarely do high school and college teachers attend the same events, and it’s fascinating to discuss the work of students who are at the cusp of becoming college students. Together we discussed what makes a good reading of a George Eliot passage, coming to a consensus and following a shared rubric, instead of using individual (often idiosyncratic) standards. Every day we go back to the passage, reading it again and discovering it anew. Our table leader is a man of calm, gentle authority and every once in a while he will query a score we gave, listening with gentle concentration and asking us to consider the rubric again. Today our table of eight read over a thousand essays; we’re told we are slightly ahead of schedule. This is met with wild applause.

In academia, faculty rarely work together on grading or even discuss it. Most academic conferences I’ve attended (with notable exceptions) have not been this collegial. Perhaps this is because here we are not competing for jobs, performing our brilliance, or hobnobbing with powerful people in our fields. Here we are working together.

Perhaps I have written about Wisconsin after all.


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