Faculty “Work”


On the first Friday in November and just over a week ago, I delivered a workshop for new tenure-stream faculty at my current institution.  I had met them in August just as they were starting an recognized some faces as we assembled for a working lunch.

Now, when I give a workshop, it is “work.”  (I was trained as a higher ed teacher to write lesson plans, balance time for different activities, and construct all of class time with intent.  That is part of why I have been and remain a good “faculty developer” and have been a dedicated student of the scholarship of teaching and learning.) So, we began with reflective writing about their “challenging” classes.  I let them take that term in whatever way made the most sense for their experiences.
The resulting conversation had one flash points, especially around the question of when/why/if faculty can give up on certain students and stop trying to reach them.  Some colleagues said you can never give up; others held to the idea that you can focus on those reaching the bar and let others fend for themselves. We needed those moments of sharpness, and I abandoned certain aspects of my prepared presentation to dig deeper into the issues on the table for those in the workshop.  But in reality, I don’t actually believe that either of those seemingly stalwart positions is entirely true.

I believe that institutions cannot give up on students, but that individual faculty can and should reach a point wherein they can’t do more, give more.  For each faculty member, that point will vary based on individual student circumstances, individual faculty circumstances, and the particulars of a semester for both.  We are all human and need to see that for self-care, sanity, and the ability to give what we must to so many.  Faculty members are neither parents nor therapists to their students, and sometimes, enforcing those and other boundaries is key.

But the core of faculty work IS supporting students, seeing them in class and on the ground–and getting them what they need in and out of the classroom.  That particular view is essential to student success.  Colleagues in Student Affairs, broadly construed, and other colleagues who provide academic support and life support in various divisions and constructs are essential to student success as well.  However, they can’t do that essential work without communication from and partnership with faculty.  How can any such staff member see what a faculty member sees in a class construct?  Attendance problems, missing work, tired and overworked, confused, unfocused, lost, uncommitted. All of these work and phrases faculty will use to describe struggling students–but what lies beneath that? Faculty can’t solve it, even if they want to get beneath.  Others can, and working together makes all the difference.

Yes, those partnerships add to the workload of already-overtaxed faculty in the US (and elsewhere), but we are, none of us, doing our work for students without this crucial extra step, yes, extra work–that matters so much more than many think.