In Praise of Pinball Machines: Why Deans Should Teach

Image by K-H. Leuders from Pixabay
This fall, for the first time in a long time, I am teaching a class taken only by first-semester, first-year students. A required general education course that includes a lot of writing. And grading. I last taught about three years ago. All in all, I have taught maybe five classes since 2010. I moved from being a tenured full professor to a 12-month, full-time academic administrator (initially, an associate dean) in 2005, so at the end of this semester I will complete my 17th year as a full-time administrator. It is a career path I never imagined for myself as I pursued my PhD studies on early modern English literature or as I published my research on 16th-century prose fiction (especially the works of Barnaby Riche) and worked my way up through the tenure ranks. I took the administrative path because (1) I feared who would be asked to do the work if I didn’t; (2) I needed a more flexible schedule than teaching permitted in order to accommodate pregnancy and early childhood care (that is, it is easier to reschedule a meeting than a class when your toddler has yet another ear infection); and (3) the systems thinking required for academic administration turned out to be something I am good at and enjoy. I did not become an administrator to avoid classroom teaching, but I did find that once I became an administrator, it was hard to give my students, especially graduate students, the attention they deserved. So I stopped graduate-level teaching first, then I restricted myself to low-stakes undergraduate courses: reading groups for honors students and first-year orientation courses.

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