From dawn till dawn: The daily anxieties of teachers

Education researchers are getting the low-down from academic diaries. Rebecca Attwood writes

October 14, 2010

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night worrying about work? Feel that you have really "earned something" only after a session teaching? Or think about the learning process over the washing-up?

If so, you are not alone, according to a series of accounts academics have written about their daily lives.

To inform Share, a research project that is investigating the ways in which academics around the world represent, share and change their teaching practices, university teachers are being invited to keep a diary on the 15th day of each month over the course of a year.

The first batch of diary entries - extracts from which have been published in a newsletter to contributors - reveal what was on participants' minds on 15 September.

For one, the day began at 4am with sleep broken by "worrying about the tsunami that is the new academic year that is going to hit us in two weeks".

Other diarists blur the boundary between home and work, "checking emails while in my nightie" or "answering emails from my sofa" at 6.45am.

Most report efforts to prepare for the start of term.

"A pretty standard day for the week before our registration week, this, I suppose, consisting of doing highly professorial things such as photocopying," writes one.

For another academic, 15 September was a "faculty development day" - "These things are scheduled three times a year and are pretty much compulsory, which gives a flavour of the dean's management style."

Another relishes the freedom to set the day's agenda. "I am very thankful to be a professor...No one tells me what to do on a day-to-day basis."

For a committed teacher, the day felt slightly "odd" because it did not involve lecturing. "Days are often best if I've spent hours in front of a class. I feel I've earned something."

But not all academics share this enthusiasm.

One writes: "I think that there are a number of staff who would prefer that they don't do anything for the students if they can avoid it...Not sure why they are still here."

To judge from the diaries, levels of "productivity" - and also bedtimes - vary wildly among faculty.

"I have achieved a good deal but worked very intensely," one diarist reports. "When I went to eat something a little earlier, my jaw was so tense that it wouldn't open."

But another was "conscious of the leaden pall of work yet undone", and a third "brought grading home, but now I am too tired to concentrate".

Although one diarist reports falling asleep shortly after 10pm while listening to Radio 4, another had yet to start reading a draft of a doctoral student's thesis at 11pm.

"My head/neck are killing me...I'll take more Syndol and hope that I can keep the work going till 1.30am or 2am ... in all honesty, I can't remember the last time I went to bed before 2am," they write.

Some had a more satisfying end to the day.

"I took some reading to bed...found a good quote from (Vladimir) Nemirovich-Danchenko that could be the basis for an essay/presentation question. Felt like Jack Horner pulling out a plum."

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com

For more on the project, or to take part, visit: www.sharingpractice.ac.uk.

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