Imitating Work

When we went into lockdown, I had to work full-time and simultaneously take care of my kid until 5 pm every day.

Then, in the last remaining 2 hours before bathtime-bedtime, I did my full-time job, including teaching 3 courses and doing all of my research obligations.

This is why I’m saying that online teaching is easier than in-person teaching. If you can do your full-time job in a couple of hours a day with a kid running around and constantly interrupting, then obviously it’s nothing like a real full-time job.

And please don’t tell me it was shitty teaching. Of course, it was. It was pathetic. I’m forever embarrassed for it. But what was the alternative? What do you think your colleagues with kids are doing right now if their schools haven’t reopened? They are fixing breakfast and trying to figure out how to get the kids to stay quiet for a while why they imitate working full-time.

I really liked being able to spend all that time with my kid, by the way. Klara and I will forever remember the lockdown fondly because of all the fun we had. It was made possible by the technological advances that allow people to imitate working while not really working.

If we didn’t have the technology, we’d all be at work and in school right now without making gigantic assholes out of ourselves and pretending there’s a danger that doesn’t exist. And the longer we keep at it, the harder it will be to go back. We are all collectively digging a huge hole for ourselves, pretending that this isn’t what it is and we aren’t rendering ourselves completely expendable. This life we have right now is easier and it’s seductive. But there will be a price to pay.

Remember all that incessant wailing about academics working 60-hour weeks? That performance didn’t save us from losing a large number of tenure lines. The performance around the imaginary hardship of online work won’t have any effect either. We need to be honest with ourselves and say openly that we embraced it so eagerly because it’s an easier option. And then we need to start walking away from it.

26 thoughts on “Imitating Work”

  1. I am one of those people who likes doing things in my own time at my own pace, who scores very highly. So, in university, I asked my professors if I could photocopy notes or slides rather than attend classes only to watch them read those slides out. As it turns out, that is exactly the wrong thing to say to university lecturers, who react by marking you down or otherwise acting like scum for the next 4 years.

    Later in life I learned that many university professors are often useless hacks who stay employed by only showing their “work” to ignorant students, since they could never withstand scrutiny from their peers. In turn, that means that many universities are a strange kind of sanctioned scam/make-work operation.

    Anyway this COVID thing and resulting use of technology makes me hopeful, because it probably means that a lot of these horrible professors will be caught and kicked out of their so-called “job”, possibly causing a renaissance.

    The whole thing probably bodes well for the author of this blog though imo.

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    1. Unfortunately, college professors rarely get training in pedagogy. If they did, they’d know that, first of all, you never ever ever read PP slides aloud in class. Or anywhere.

      They’d also know that if a student asks to take a photo or a copy of the slides, you don’t get pissy but instead make the slides available to the students and rethink your methodology of teaching. I always make all of my slides widely available and don’t understand why other people act like these slides are a huge secret. Is there nothing else they bring to their teaching? That’s sad if it’s true.

      I’m in foreign languages and we actually do get extensive training in pedagogy.

      Why does it bode well for me, though? I mean, I’m sure it’s true but what’s your thinking?

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      1. I think that an easy way to explain it is to say that human beings organise themselves into hierarchies primarily via two modes; 1) by being as competent as possible in order to rise within the hierarchy, and 2) by positioning themselves within the hierarchy based on social networking, intrigues, politics, blackmail, backstabbings etc.

        The professors who didn’t like me very much belonged to the second kind of hierarchy – they were not particularly competent (mediocre at best, with several unable to practice professionally in industry as I learned later on) where their position and employment within the university depended on social networks/who they sucked up to as they worked their way up through the department. They could not easily replicate quality coursework, which made it scarce to them, and so would not give it out to students.

        People like you, though, belong to the first kind of hierarchy. You happily give course material away because not only can you replicate quality coursework at will, but produce more of it than you can present (this blog is testament to that). For you, quality material is the opposite of scarce – it’s abundant, so you give it away at will. Plus you invite others to join you in your own personal journey of learning as evidenced in this blog, which is the mark of a naturally good teacher (imo).

        The reason I read your blog is partly because you remind me of someone who has the same job that you do (totally different field) and so I’ll say the same thing to you that I said to her when she asked something like what you did – you’re a natural teacher who has no problem producing material, who pretty much just presents their own thinking to the class in a way that students like. So long as you keep moving forward in your thinking and continue to present it openly, you’ll have no end of success.

        The thing to watch out for though are people in your own department or whatever who belong to the second kind of hierarchy, who might push you out of a job by playing politics against you when you didn’t even realise that politics was going on.

        The above is just my opinion though, so please do your own thinking about it.

        By the way, an interesting thought is that todays Republicans align with the first kind of hierarchy, while the Democratic Party aligns more with the second kind of hierarchy.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you! What a beautiful comment. I feel really good about myself right now.

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  2. Last semester (the next one hasn’t started yet) I found remote teaching both took up more time because without real contact with students I wasn’t sure how much (if anything) they could learn from the materials and so I kept fiddling and fiddling.

    During a video event recently I was chatting with university professor in the US who said the same thing, without direct give and take it was impossible to know how much students were learning.

    Had I only had the two hours I also could have done it but felt worse.

    I suspect the teachers that really like remote learning are burned out/lazy who just post the crap that they’ve used for 20 years with no changes and go back to watching cat videos on twitter.

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    1. I’ve had people say that teaching online as a written presence, just corresponding with the students, is easier. And a lot of people who are heavily into online say it is better – – and put a lot of time into it.

      Based on what the gadgets they want us to use are, though, online teaching really only works with very conservative pedagogical models. Lectures where you are supposed to memorize the information, as opposed to engage with an argument, etc., etc.

      I say remote is harder. I also seem to put less into it. It’s very exhausting and you have to really create all these online activities, which is also exhausting. So mostly you are engaging with gadgets whereas before you engaged with students and material. I’m quite extroverted so the remote version is tough for me, very exhausting

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      1. “It’s very exhausting … mostly you are engaging with gadgets”

        For me that’s a big part of it. After getting stuff ready and posting it I was exhausted… I’m mostly a major introvert but as a teacher I’m a big ole extrovert in that dealing with students (in class or individually in office hours) is energizing (another colleague I’ve talked with has the same story). So I’m putting in the grunt work (and more) but not getting any of the usual return…. blech.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yet people are enthusiastically embracing the opportunity to do this until at least the summer of 2022. No typo.

          It’s how you know that you are a true teacher. You get this surge of energy from being in the classroom that’s addictive. It’s such a great feeling.

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          1. I guess that’s what I’ve figured out from this post. I’ve always resisted saying I liked to teach because I’m socialized to say I don’t — it was always, you’re preparing to be a professor, and you’re a girl, so if you are too enthusiastic about teaching people won’t see you as research oriented. So I suppress myself. But the fact is, I like to teach, even on sabbatical I like to still have a class or something (not that I’ve gotten many sabbaticals). I’m not that interested in basic language teaching, and I don’t like to teach too many different things at once, but if I’m honest then yes, I like to teach (and should stop feeling funny/ambivalent/in the closet from myself about that fact … anyway, I’ve got more thoughts on this, and other activities in life that are like teaching)

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I had the revelation that I love teaching in my second year of the PhD program, when the instructor in charge of the pegagogy class (a mandatory class I scorned at first and tried everything to avoid) announced her retirement at the end of the semester. I cried at her retirement party (cry!) because 1) she retired and 2) she made me realize during the semester that I like to teach. It took me at least 10 years to stop feeling funny or ambivalent about it. I rely to your comment.

              Liked by 1 person

  3. I can already foresee colleagues who, for a variety of reasons, will make formal requests to teach remotely on a permanent basis. It is tempting to stay home while “teaching.” The amount of time and money I am saving while teaching remotely is insane. And I do not iron pants or wear shows anymore.

    It will be easy to forget how incredibly crappy remote teaching is. We will even soon find positive aspects to it (in my case, students keep working together after the end of classes, in breakout rooms., which is good?). But as you say, we must accept that it is easy and more convenient while shying away from it.

    I sincerely do not trust university professors begging to go back in class, with or without COVID. My only (tiny) hope is students protesting in an organized way about how mediocre their learning experience is, and demanding real classrooms and real university experience. But even then, do they know how to protest in an organized way?

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    1. OMG, I can’t believe somebody is honestly saying this. We all know it’s true! My family has already saved about $5,000 since beginning of lockdowns.

      Why are we lying about this? It’s easy, convenient, money saving and…. Very dangerous.

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      1. People with steady jobs who now work at home, like university professors, obviously save money. We all know that. Some may have to buy a better computer or better devices, but come on. And in my case, regarding time, I am not trapped on the 401 until September 2021. Imagine that.

        Now, Z is right that teaching remotely is exhausting. The bad kind of exhaustion. I usually leave the classroom exhausted, but also full of energy. It is a weird mix. Now, after I leave a zoom meeting with my students, I just feel exhausted.

        We are playing a very dangerous game, but I do not think it is discussed.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I don’t save money working from home — am not sure how I would. I saved money when my conferences went virtual but I spent it on computers and things for work, so I think it was a clean wash. Of course, I dress up every day, whether I go to work or not, and I mostly walk/bike to work, so I don’t have commuting costs. I saved money in the lockdown because my ceramics studio and my gym closed.

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          1. We paid for the gym throughout the lockdown because it’s a local business and we wanted to support it. But my husband had an 80-minute commute each day that has now gone away. The gas and the tyres and car maintenance alone have been huge.

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          2. It is a personal experience, but I save money because I do not have to commute (subway, train, buses, you name it in case) to campus and I cannot eat at restaurants or buy coffee on campus. I save money on groceries and being more often at home to cook, even when working. I was born in a lower-middle-class family and I know by heart what we should pay for produce and meat. Now I have time to buy foods on sale (I know when to buy tomatoes, and how much to pay for them) and cook, and my groceries are sometimes delivered to my door. I teach, check how my students work in breakout rooms, put more salt in my stew, and I do that while making sure my 10yo son is OK. I have not bought clothes this year, because what for. And during the lockdown, I could not go to restaurants, bars, theaters, movie theaters, concert venues, nightclubs and coffee shops, which in my case amounts to at least 40% of my credit card expenses. And travelling is obviously not an option. So yes, my credit score is to the roof; I miss having a life.

            Having to buy a mask and a better computer for teaching remotely is nothing in comparison to the money I have saved so far.

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            1. We saved a ton of money on daycare — where we had to pay about half to keep our spot — and on after-school care, which shut down. We also saved a ton on lunches — making a sandwich at home is cheap — and fancy dinners and date-nights. And of course, gas and clothes and other random stuff — like tickets for museums and the zoo.

              Yes, working from home when there is nothing to do and nowhere to go is cheap and easy and convenient. But it’s no way to live one’s life!

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              1. We would have been traveling this summer, too. Florida and Montreal, at the very least. That’s money saved but what’s the purpose of life, you know? To me, traveling is a big part of it.

                Today I would be leaving for Canada for my brother-in-law’s fiftieth birthday party on Saturday. Instead, I sent a gift basket. Huge savings. But not the kind I’m happy about.

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            2. My food and restaurant costs went up. I have to get out of the house and the last thing I want to do after a day of zooming is stay home and cook. I’ve taken to picking up good takeout and eating on the patio. I shouldn’t — I can’t really afford this, although I say it’s all right because of what I don’t do. But we’ve always had a lot of things open, including some coffee shops, so I haven’t had expenses go down that much. I have also spent too much on making the house nicer, since I have to be in it so much.

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              1. I started gaining weight after going back to work. I don’t cook as much and all the nice places are closed. So I end up eating some carby garbage and this is the result. It’s cheap but we all know that means very unhealthy. :-(((

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  4. And while I am at it, for the sake of me, what is the point of PP slides in a language or literature class? I genuinely do not understand. I tried to create slides because this is what professors do, but I do not get the point.

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    1. If you’re giving a large formal lecture on literature and you have power point slides with useful or relevant illustrations, or that permit you to take a poem and blow it up large on the wall so people can look at the text you are talking about, power point can be useful.

      There have always been slides, including before power point. You can put up pictures of people you’re talking about, maps and scenes of the cities where novels are taking place, pictures of paintings that are under discussion, etc. They’ve been using slides in art and architecture classes, to look at things, since slides were invented — my parents had them in college in the 40s, etc.

      I don’t use ppt for this, I create websites where I put the materials. Then we can blow them up on the wall during class, and really examine them.

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  5. I started teaching in person, then went online (required from above) for two weeks as the number of cases spiked, and will be going back in person next week. While we were online, I basically taught live using an iPad + stylus and sharing my electronic white board with the students. I talked and drew and wrote (it was easy to quickly change colors for emphasis) and the students would ask questions via messaging or would (rarely) turn on their microphones and ask verbally. I feel the online version went well (live lectures, more color than I have markers for in f2f teaching, plus I could record lectures as I went — no plans on posting them anywhere, just for current students if they miss a class); however, now that the cases are dropping and we’re clear to go back, everyone wants to go back to the classroom. They are much more engaged when we’re in person, more likely to ask questions, and actually thinking on the spot.

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