Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Working out the drudgery/magic ratio

How many hours of sheer drudgery are required to produce one moment of magic in the classroom? I asked that question on Facebook earlier this week and received answers ranging from 6 to 42 (because 42 is the answer to--well, everything). 

It would be a simple math problem if only I could figure out which acts of drudgery should be included in the equation. If we count all the years of education that led to the degree that put me in a position to create classroom magic, the number would be astronomical--even if we subtract the portion of that educational experience that does not qualify as drudgery. A correspondent informs me that drudgery comes to us from the Old English dreogan, "to work, suffer, endure," which perfectly describes what I've been doing all this week to prepare for the start of classes. The semester hasn't started but already my endurance is wearing thin. 

But let's put aside the drudgery required to get credentialed and find a teaching job, and since we're making arbitrary decisions, let's also bracket the time we spend in academic activities not related to teaching--but even that isn't easy. My service on the tenure and promotion committee may not enhance my own teaching, but it affects the College's ability to retain effective teachers and thus the quality of teaching overall. And what about research and writing? My students aren't likely to read my academic writing but my research informs my teaching, exposing me to new ideas and providing a foundation for the knowledge I share with students.

But we have to start somewhere so let's eliminate service, research, and writing from the equation, even though they involve a significant amount of drudgery. What about professional development activities aimed directly at improving teaching? Pedagogy workshops, technology training, discussions of diversity or assessment--such activities are not without their moments of drudgery, especially when they're held on Zoom. "Endure" is exactly the right verb to describe how I experience Zoom meetings.

So let's admit to the equation only the portion of pedagogical professional development that qualifies as drudgery, and then let's add to that the number of hours required to create classes, review and order texts, write syllabi, construct writing assignments and in-class activities, post all manner of matter on the course management system, make photocopies, set up gradebooks, prepare lectures and discussions--in short, every annoying little thing we do before we set foot in the classroom on the first day, plus all the annoying little things we do to make sure we're ready for the next day and the next. That's one side of the equation.

Now the next step: to determine our drudgery/magic ratio, all we have to do is figure out how to quantify a unit of classroom magic. 

And here, my friends, I throw up my hands. I have endured enough. Time to sit back and let the magic happen.

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