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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: Deadlines
May 16, 2011 - 6:45pm

I meant to write this blog post last week. I sat down to do it, and an hour later had only written and deleted the same paragraph three or four times. So I gave up. I set aside a block of time each week for this work, and if I can’t get it done in that time, I can’t do it. (Thankfully, Scott Jaschik is very understanding.)

Usually, the time I’ve allotted is sufficient for the task. But last week was my second week of full-time faculty development in a row, the day of a major faculty meeting, and the day after graduation. I am not surprised, looking back, that I was too tired to produce anything of value.

And yet. While I’m grateful for the flexibility that IHE offers me with this blog, it occurs to me that this kind of flexibility is unusual. In the “real world,” we tell our students, a deadline is real. If you don’t get the grant application in on time, it won’t be reviewed. If you miss the contest deadline, your entry won’t be considered. If you are making a client presentation, going to court, meeting a patient—deadlines matter. And so we tell our students that even though they are very busy at the end of the semester, and have lots of other things to do, they must still meet our deadlines. Right?

Well, maybe. It’s true, some deadlines really do matter. Others are more flexible. Some meetings can be rescheduled; some projects can simply take longer. Our students know this, I think, when they prioritize. Sometimes the biology homework takes precedence, sometimes the English paper. It depends — on the attitude of the professor, the presence or absence of a group that is also depending on you, the ease or difficulty of the assignment itself.

Last weekend (and on into the early part of the week) I had several unbreakable deadlines. Graduation was going to be Sunday afternoon whether I liked it or not, and the university faculty meeting had been scheduled since before the first day of classes. My faculty development institute had to work around those deadlines, and my blog post came in third or fourth behind those commitments. While I would have liked to do it all, last week I just couldn’t.

I’m pretty sure that happens to our students, too. While they don’t have many of the extra-curricular commitments I do (I teach mostly traditional-age students in a residential college setting), they do have three or four other classes besides mine, and we all have assignments due at the same time. A big part of managing college is recognizing that basic fact, and managing time accordingly—something it can take most students a while to figure out. But two weeks ago in one of my faculty development groups a colleague said something that really stuck with me — she reminded us that we are asking our students to produce their best work when they have the least flexible time. The end-of-term research paper, big project, or even final exam, while a useful assessment tool from the point of view of the faculty member trying to figure out what a student has learned, cumulatively, over the course of the semester, may not actually be all that representative of a student’s best work. I’m suddenly recalling a conversation I had with my daughter a couple of weeks back, when she noted that she still had two things due for each course—and that seemed like too much. At the time, my students still had two things due as well, and that seemed perfectly normal and even necessary to me. But two things in each class? How good a job could they do on them all?

Some schools, of course, evade this problem by having students only take one course at a time. But I imagine the vast majority of us still operate on a “traditional” course schedule of four or five courses per term, each with something major due at the end. My own inability to meet a simple deadline in a busy time, though, suggests that we might want to think about a change. Maybe not: Susan O’Doherty suggested in her last post that procrastination may not be so bad. But is managing to pull it off the best we can hope for? What do you think?


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