This summer, APSCUF is going behind the scenes to show how faculty members and coaches continue to devote themselves to affordable, quality education even when class is not in session.
Jonathan Imber Shaw of Kutztown University says students come first. “They’re the reason I have a job in the first place,” the associate professor of English said.
During spring semester of 2016, I was up early on Tuesday mornings. By 5:30 a.m., I’d be on my second cup of coffee and on the road, driving out of my Center City Philadelphia neighborhood to get to the Schuykill Expressway ahead of rush-hour traffic.
By 7:45, I’d be in my office in Kutztown University’s Lytle Hall, answering emails from students, fine-tuning the day’s multimedia displays for class, drinking a third coffee. I always schedule an early morning office hour for my go-getter undergraduates. They stop by with essays in draft, with questions about assigned reading. This spring, I worked with an especially ambitious senior who was preparing materials for graduate school applications; we often met early in the day to talk about the process and strategize. I love those early-morning discussions with motivated students; they’re the best way to start the day.
Some mornings, I’d put a note on my door and go downstairs to my department chair’s office. We’d discuss department events, university politics, national trends, and policy in higher education. Sometimes we’d even talk about poetry — imagine that, for two professors of literature.
At 9:30, I’d teach my first class of the day, an undergraduate literature course for non-majors. The class meetings were 80 minutes long, and they would move quickly. The lecture and discussion sessions would be supplemented by multimedia displays, which take a couple hours to construct and refine, and most days I’d have between 80 and 140 pages of reading to prepare. I do all of that at home, on the weekend, and on evenings when I’m not reading and evaluating student essays.
At 11 a.m., I’d have a meeting. Sometimes a department meeting, sometimes a department or university committee. I sit on a total of six committees, all of which meet at least a couple times a month. Most are related to some aspect of department or university curriculum and academic programs. I also co-advise the English Club and the university chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, so if I’m not at a committee meeting, I drop in to keep up with club events and give what help I can.
At noon, 90 minutes of office time would commence. Most undergraduates prefer to see professors later in the day, so those 90 minutes would be full. There are always a million things I need to do — tasks for committees, planning for meetings, answering more emails, fine-tuning another multimedia display, my own research — but when a student knocks on my door, I drop everything. They come first. They’re the reason I have a job in the first place. I try to sneak lunch into downtime, but I usually end up eating while talking with a student. It’s not glamorous, but that’s the job.
At 1:30 p.m., three hours of teaching would start. I’d start with another section of the literature class for non-majors. The same lesson plan from the morning would need to be reconfigured for that section’s need and strengths. Following that, I’d have an 80-minute session of a special topics class in literary cultural studies for advanced English majors. Shifting gears, in less than ten minutes, from discussion with non-majors to much more intense, theoretical analysis with junior and senior majors is a real challenge. For the special topics class, I’d frequently be working from required readings, online materials, a PowerPoint display, some music, and perhaps an excerpt from a DVD from my collection. It’s a lot to coordinate, but it creates a rich environment for students’ intellectual development.
At 4:30, I’d be back in the office for another office hour. Many of our graduate students are working teachers, and, because we don’t have a lot of funding, many grad students need to hold some sort of day job. Scheduling time late in the day really helps them. And because many of their questions and needs relate to large and complex research projects, many of our conversations go beyond the scheduled hour. It stretches my day, but I value my intellectual relationships with my grad students. They’re smart, and they keep me on my toes.
That late start to my evening commute also means there’s no avoiding rush-hour traffic on my way home to Philadelphia. I usually get home at some point after 7 p.m. I spend an hour or so eating and checking in with my two school-age children and with my wife, who’s also a busy professional. After 8 or 8:30, it’s back to the books for another couple of hours of prep or, more often, I grab a stack of essays to work through.
And that’s Tuesday. Seventeen hours of work and commute in one day of my week.
Jonathan Imber Shaw is an associate professor of English at Kutztown University.