And the semester hasn’t even begun! I think it’s clear that I’m in a fragile mental state.
Here’s the deal: I’ve been building up some enthusiasm and momentum for my genetics course. The last couple of weeks, I’ve made significant progress, using the experience of the last few years to build it up more flexibly and better able to cope with the awkwardness of teaching during a pandemic, but also looking back long-term on what works and what doesn’t. The last couple of days, in particular, I was rather happily rewriting the first couple of weeks of lecture, tweaking lab exercises, building up a library of problem sets to assign, etc., and looking forward to trying new ideas in the classroom. I was streamlining all the stuff students have had no problem with in the past, and expanding bits where I’ve found conceptual roadblocks before. It was productive work.
And then, I get an email telling me that my syllabus must incorporate PSLOs and CSLOs, and I’m sent a handy-dandy link to guide me step-by-step through adding these statements, if you already know all the PSLO/CSLO jargon. These are statements used by assessors in evaluating what general skills students learn in my course, they’re important for accreditation and assessment, and some of my colleagues worked very hard on them in committees around campus. I understand why they’re important and appreciate all the work other faculty have put into formulating them.
I hate them. It’s bureaucratic noise. I know very specifically what my objectives are in genetics, but now I have to reformulate them in the broadest, most general context to satisfy administrators, in a way that isn’t going to be at all useful to my students, and package them up in boilerplate bloat to tack onto my syllabus, which is just yet more verbiage the students will find irrelevant and won’t read.
OK, though, it’s part of the job. It’s drudgery, but I’ll derail what I was doing and switch to this task today and get it done. I admit I spent a good twenty minutes yesterday tearing at my hair and cussing furiously at my computer screen, but I’m a big boy, I’ll buckle down and get it done.
This morning, I drag myself to the computer and calmly and unproductively stared at the screen for a few hours. I am unable to proceed. I get nothing done. I pulled up the university’s list of these biology PSLO/CSLO thingies and let them suck all the inspiration and enthusiasm out of my brain. I can’t even warm up to actual genetics, and there I even have a little to-do list of specifics to get done before classes start. I have all these back-up plans in case we go into lockdown, for the inevitable result of having to cope with students requiring prolonged absences, for doing labs online (the worst possible thing that could happen), but I was totally unprepared for the university to reach in and crush all the joy out of my heart with these chains of bureaucracy.
That’s partly me, I know. It’s why I say I’m so close to burnout — in a normal year, I’d just roll my eyes and get on with it. I just don’t feel like I can do it right now.
You know, this university has done as little as possible to adapt to the terrible circumstances the faculty find themselves in, I would have thought they could at least stop pestering us about our TPS reports.
I think what I need to do is just say fuck it, and go spend a few hours in the lab doing worthwhile things, like washing glassware and feeding animals and scrubbing spider poop off the floor of containers and setting up a few more bottles of flies, and then maybe go for a winter walk. Maybe by this evening my brain will manage to regenerate some of the enthusiasm that has been recently vaporized. It would probably be for the best if I just ignore all official university email for a while.