The Gift of Time

I teach class on Wednesday and Thursday nights, and like some professors, have struggled with the move to hybrid/remote learning. I’m an extroverted extrovert and have used the energy in the classroom as motivation to turn a long day into an excellent teaching session. But interactions virtually are not the same as interactions in-person, so when I don’t feel like teaching, I really need to pull from my enthusiasm stores.

I found myself in one of those low places Wednesday afternoon and knew that I wouldn’t lead a strong class so I decided to give students the night off. But the night off involved homework–I asked that they do something for themselves during the time we had class and to send me a note with what they did.

I normally do not tell students to take time for themselves in such explicit ways, although I do talk a lot in class about making oneself a priority (particularly around health–I insisted people stay home when sick long before it was cool to do so, thanks pandemic!). However, like many email requests I send that are ignored, I didn’t expect people to let me know what they did during their time off.

But they did! They sent me links to the music videos they watched, they sent pictures of their cats, they told me about their slow dinners, their time at the gym, the movies they watched, the quality time they had with loved ones, the drawings they made, and the laundry they folded (I love folding laundry so this spoke to me).

And in the messages of what they did, they shared how much they appreciated having permission to make the time for themselves, how rare that can be in the hustle of graduate school. Having time to decompress is necessary for all of us.

Their message also made me think about how faculty are particularly socialized to think about class time and decompression and work-life balance. When I first started as an assistant professor, I was also training for my first marathon. I’m an early morning runner, so that means I leave and return before the sun rises. And colleagues seemed genuinely surprised that I could handle the workload of being a professor while training for a marathon. Like did they really think I would get up at 5 am and start working? Or that somehow taking two hours out of my morning to run would negatively affect my productivity? It made no sense to me. But I think we’re often socialized/condition to place work at the center of our lives (it certainly takes up a large amount of time) and every thing else revolves around it. This is not sustainable, and not at all appropriate. At the same time, I’ve had to de-program my attitudes around graduate student work and engagement so as not to recreate the narrative that academic work is never-ending. I struggle with this and giving the student a night off when I need a night off (and not feeling bad or guilty about it!) is one small attempt to push back against my own entrenched ideas of work.

So I’ll put the same challenge to you that I did to them…take two hours this week for you. Do something that benefits you. And please don’t have it be anything related to class or work. And if you’re so inclined, let me know how it went 🙂

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