Teaching and Time Management in 2020


Teaching and Time Management in 2020

Author: Andrea K. Maxwell

In the History of Art and Architecture Department (HAA) we benefit from our Constellations, researching and learning along meaningful themes of inquiry that unite heterogenous areas of focus. In a pandemic-stricken society fighting for social and political revolution, these constellation themes suddenly become deeply personal, affecting our ability to work, learn, and live. Our mobility was frozen, exchange restricted to virtual encounters, personal and institutional agency stunted, identities challenged, persecuted, and strengthened, and our environments on lockdown. Every routine and hack we had for chugging through regular life was disabled and our pedagogical practices were uprooted. For graduate students with teaching and research appointments, our usual means of functioning were obsolete.

Undoubtedly, life in 2020 has emphasized the need for patience, self-care, and understanding, but as working graduate students, we often forget those virtues apply to us and not just our students. While social media will gladly tell us how to care for ourselves through consumerism, making adjustments to work more efficiently also does wonders for mental well-being. Having our familiar support systems muted by the pandemic, a return to the basics of time management seemed to be in order.

As TA Mentor for AY20-21, I led a virtual colloquium in HAA to workshop time management skills with faculty and grads. As many of us in the department have reiterated, now is not the time to strive for our best work ever, nor should we expect of ourselves the same rigor and productivity as we did in the before-times.  Instead, we must rely on prioritizing what we can and delegating (and deleting) tasks accordingly. In my initial presentation, I encouraged participants to also consider what level of cognitive demand their high to low priority items required of them. When developing strategies for time management, when we choose to work on a task is as important as which task we choose.  Personally, I require sunlight and minimal distractions to get difficult tasks completed, so this typically means working in the mornings, after my husband has “gone” to work at his desk and my cats have fallen into their post-breakfast naps.  Non-morning people, however, are making their work harder if they try to start demanding tasks first thing in the day.

The workshop continued with faculty tips for time management related to teaching and work/life balance.  Beyond these practical suggestions, we also focused on the importance of scheduling self-care and time off from work-related tasks.  In the subsequent discussion, students raised important questions related to the expectations placed on our time, noting that the current system and division of hours for a student with a full-time appointment and coursework requires working over 40 hours a week making days off feel impossible.  We also emphasized that gender discrepancies contribute to these issues of work/life balance and the ability to say no, and women in the university are often burdened with all the emotional labor in their department. While the conversation made it clear there is no easy answer, the faculty that participated were sensitive and responsive to the concerns raised. We were encouraged to practice making choices that benefit us and our goals, though the issue remains that freedom in making choices is a privilege to which we do not all have equal access.

Perhaps the most important takeaway is that no individual plan will work for everyone, and what worked for one person in the past may not work now. The system in which we perform as students, teachers, and employees needs repair, but maybe through the upheaval of 2020 we can start to make those changes and take care of ourselves and each other. To get there, we need open and honest communication, with each other and with ourselves, and it takes all parties involved to cultivate an environment where change can occur.

  • Agency
  • Environment
  • Identity
  • Mobility/Exchange