Slow Wednesday/I mean Thursday

I wrote this a long time ago and never published it. It probably needs a lot of work.

Writing every day didn’t work out for me. It has kept the blog on my mind. What’s on my mind these days? There seems to be a new movement called “The Slow Professor” movement. The headlines say “professors taking back academia.”

The idea is that academic work needs to slow itself down, and not be swept by the turbulent current of the corporatization of higher education. Thinking requires reflection, and reflection requires time, and we must make that time for ourselves by slowing down, the argument goes.

I should say that I began this blog post yesterday, and today I hope to finish it, but I have so much to grade, I’m not sure I’ll be able to.

Consider an adjunct teaching a reasonable adjunct course load of 3 classes. Each class has 35 students in it. We’re given credit for 18 work hours each week we teach these 105 students. It’s easy to work more than 18 hours if we want to give those 105 a quality education. And if we’re trying to avoid working beyond what we’re paid and given credit for (18 hours) we find ourselves working at a frantic pace.

If we’re fortunate enough to not be teaching Composition, there’s a good chance we have it in our power to limit written assignments – or for those most fortunate, completely eliminate them. Creating a bundle of self-grading assignments is the only way to manage to teach effectively within the time we’re given to teach. That would allow the adjunct with the 3- course teaching schedule, a chance to slow down.

But the week when papers are due, consider this. The adjunct with 3 courses has to read and grade 525 pages in their 18-hour weeks. Also consider that 9 of those hours are spent in class, leaving only 9 hours to grade those papers. If this teacher is a “machine,” they can grade 10 papers an hour (quantity, not quality). The most I’ve ever been able to push through was 7 in an hour, and that was with minimal feedback to the student, and skipping portions of the papers – doing more of a “spot check” to make sure key features were included in the paper. – So, the point is that we can do a sub-par job of grading 105 papers in one and 1/2 weeks if we work at a frantic pace.

When I was teaching composition, especially for working drafts when I knew my feedback was formative, I found myself setting a timer for 15 minutes. If the timer went off, I knew I was giving the draft too much time. Even at 15 minutes per paper, I’m only managing to grade 4 papers an hour, but this is a more comfortable pace. It takes a little over 26 hours to grade 105 papers at 4 hours a week. That means turnover is going to be 3 weeks, and in those 3 weeks, there is no time for any other kind of prep work. I’d have to cancel my office hours for three weeks to get this done at a reasonable pace. This would be fine, really, if the final drafts weren’t due in one week. This means I find myself working 35 hours in a week (or more) trying to complete tasks for an 18-hour/week job (if I’m lucky, I’m not additionally working at another part-time job). Where is the time for slow-professoring in this?

I’m not going to pretend that I have a sob story to tell. I quit teaching Comp, and I’ve adopted my own strategy. (For one, I toggle paper due dates, only assign one paper, and don’t give feedback on working drafts, but do require students to take their drafts to a tutor and to in-class workshops.)

Frankly, -their – framing sounds better than mine. “I’m adopting the slow movement” comes across much better than “I’m adopting the slacker movement.” But there are problems with this.

-Insert problems here.

I want to talk about more hourly math, because I’m not the typical adjunct. I now have an SO to help offset the loss of the income my extra teaching job gave me. Two years ago, I was a typical adjunct, and taught as many classes as I could, because if I wanted to eat and pay rent, I had to. So if I could get 8 classes, I took them, and some semesters were less lucrative, with only 6 classes. Let’s split the difference and agree that on average, the regular adjunct teaches 7 classed. This adjunct is entrusted with the education of 245 young adult learners (the future of our nation), and is given 42 hours a week to do this. That’s a full-time job (with no job security or benefits, but that’s another problem). When those 245 students submit their 5-page papers, the regular adjunct is looking at grading 1,225 pages. At the rate of 5 papers an hour, it will take 49 hours to do this. Remember that 21 hours of the 42-hour work week are spent in the classroom (unless this adjunct is lucky enough to have nabbed some online courses). Once again, we’re looking at over three weeks of grading time, if the adjunct cancels office hours and doesn’t prepare any lessons or lectures during those weeks.

This is a problem for full-time professors, too, really. I’ve heard of a few full-time professors being reprimanded for slow grade turnover. Remember that attentively reading, evaluating, and giving feedback on 25 pages in an hour is not being slow. (As a freelance editor, I average about 10 pages an hour, depending on the depth of feedback I offer.)

What is the solution? Stop grading with so much attention? Discontinue providing formative feedback? Grade during class time and show videos to students while you grade? (This divides turnaround in half – so might be a good call. That would be three class periods of films.)

Assign less work, is one solution I’ve seen prescribed by people in comments sections. That’s well and good, and I do that. The institution that pays my check actually has quality control measures, though. They review my work, and I can cut here and there, but I still have to demonstrate that I’m doing enough. When I taught Comp, it was a “canned course,” created by some institution outside of our college. I couldn’t control the number of assignments. So “assign less work” isn’t always an option, and certainly isn’t a good solution.

Do you know what the solution is? Because I do. It’s obvious, really. Put fewer students in the classroom, and reduce the course load for professors. An adjunct teaching 2 courses should be given credit for 18 hours of work per week, and they should be paid for that time. Full-time faculty should only be asked to teach 4 classes per semester, not 5 or 6. Let’s see higher education make these institutional changes, and then we can talk about slowing down and making time to think. In the meantime, slacker pay and slacker hours means that our “education leadership” is slacking on their responsibilities, and we’re offering a low-quality, fast-food higher education to the nation’s future leadership.

Remember that all it took was one little sneeze from the big bad wolf for the straw house to fall apart.




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