June 2, 2014
So last entry I may have gotten a little overly emotional about this whole doctoral thing. It was the weekend after a long week and I think all my filters lowered concurrently with me deciding to write and the dawning of a new month…perfect storm to call out the inner teenage girl angst-ridden portion of my artistic soul. Identity and its construct have been one of my constant obsessions from my late teens onward and I think I’m only now beginning to see what when I begin using language like “finding myself” or “growing into myself” it generally means (A) there’s a lot of other stuff that’s been going on externally to destabilize me and (B) I’ve generally been drinking too much and sleeping too little in an effort to silence the voices and find some personal clarity. When all is well being myself and actually growing as a person are occupying enough of my own psyche that I don’t need to verbalize how I need to do them…they just happen.
But anyways, the weekend meltdown did bring to light something that I think is valuable namely that I do need to root more deeply into these ideas and be intentional about this process so that I have that legitimacy, confidence, and credibility inside me. All the positive self talk in the world isn’t going to make up for sloppy work so yeah…time for the work part of the equation.
On Thursday I will be holding an all-faculty training session and, as we’re on the brink of several significant changes as an institution, have decided to present on faculty burnout. I know…total downer topic, right? Just when everyone needs a rah-rah girl to point out that the cup is way more than half full, I’m bringing up the b word. But seriously, I think our faculty has been consistently told that they need to “consider the student” and “take care of our students” and “do all you can to ease the student into this next step” and though I’m all for making the students comfortable…if my staff is burned out it means we’re losing ideas and losing the desire to take risks and generally losing out on what we do best.
So what is burnout “officially”? Though I’d guess we all know the feeling, the experts define it as a state where you’re emotionally exhausted, experience a sharp decrease in a sense of personal accomplishment, and depersonalize others. Basically you’re tired, you get nothing done (or think you’re getting nothing done) and people become stupid and annoying obstacles rather than dazzling, interesting creatures. (Here’s a link to one of the articles I’ve read which is quite good.)
Burnout can happen in any field but apparently it’s definitely risky in teaching because instructors deal with managing so many relationships simultaneously and often are required to navigate the student/administration expectations gamut. In an online space the lack of face to face contact and community brings up a whole new snag to the system. You don’t have lunches or random hallway meetings for venting and connection thus the isolation factor becomes catalytic to feeling the burn.
Though there is no magic antidote to burnout, it can be helped a lot by one simple word: communication. By constantly keeping open lines of communication between staff, administration, and even students everyone feels like they have a vested interest in the process and they don’t burn out rather they burn with purpose. (Sorry…terrible pun.) So yeah, a bit more writing/thinking/researching/meditating to do before the big night but I think it’s going to be good. If anything, just researching burnout has made me feel less burned out. And that in itself is worth it.