The end of Sabbital Lite for Fall 2007

Last week, I read Deb Hawhee’s blog entry on her upcoming sabbatical, about a dean telling her that she had better not show up on campus next semester, and I have to say, I got a bit of a twinge. That probably should have been me, I thought.

Well, it’s not quite that bad.

Loyal readers will recall that I am taking the one semester sabbatical I was awarded this year and treating it more or less as a semester worth of course release which I am going to divide over two semesters. So, this term, I haven’t been teaching but I have continued my administrative duties as the writing program coordinator; next term, I’ll teach one class, do administrative stuff, and do sabbatical stuff.

Now, I still think that splitting up my time like this was the right decision at the time– that is, given what I thought was going to happen this Fall (which didn’t happen, btw), given the quasi-administrative work I wanted to continue, and given what I was allowed to do by my department head. And I also think that the final decision is still out since I am using one of my releases in the winter term. Still, if someone were to ask me right now, with hindsight, if sabbatical lite was a good idea, I think the answer is “probably not.”

I don’t mean to suggest that there have been no advantages to this arrangement; there has been. While I like teaching and I’ve missed it quite a bit this semester, it is nice to not have to worry about reading stacks of student essays, especially as finals approach. I feel like I have accomplished quite a bit this semester with my BAWS project. It took too long, but I have put together what I think is a really solid survey and set of case study questions– I’ll start that process as soon as I find out about funding for running that software. I have written a lot of notes, done a lot of reading, and done a lot of thinking on my project, most of which has made me realize I need to do a lot more note-taking, reading, and thinking, and, beyond that, I need to start collecting some survey data. I’ve managed to put together a couple of other scholarly projects “on the side,” including a featured (albeit not well attended) presentation at NCTE and I’m going to go to the International Conference on College Teaching and Learning, more or less as EMU’s representative/winner of a being a technical innovator. If I didn’t have the time I had this semester, I might have tried to get out of the NCTE thing and I know I wouldn’t have gone through the application process for this other conference.

And I have felt some of the benefits of “getting away” that a sabbatical is supposed to afford. I’ve been able to go to the gym a lot more, for example, and I’ve been able to get to some stuff around the house, such as some painting. Hopefully, I’ll be able to continue some of these benefits next semester. In winter, I am only teaching one class (and that’s a small graduate course) and I will start the wind-down process of being the writing program coordinator. So, with any luck, I’ll be able to truly stretch my one semester sabbatical out a bit more.

Still, I wouldn’t recommend this approach to others who might be contemplating it simply because I have not experienced what many have told me what is ultimately the true benefit of a sabbatical, what Deb Hawhee’s dean was yelling at her about: just being gone, completely away and unplugged from campus. I’m not sure this would have been feasible at all given that I live about a mile from my office and my wife is a professor in the same department, but it would have been interesting to attempt. I’m also not sure I would have gotten a lot more work done, mainly because my own work habits seem (to me, at least) so scattered. I feel like I’m one of those people who gets more done when they are really busy, so I am not sure having all the time a real sabbatical would have afforded would have helped.

Well, live and learn. The next time I am eligible for a sabbatical, my hope is that I’ll be able to afford to take a full year, and that really will be a chance to get away. In the meantime, I think I need to get to the gym and then get reading.

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