Tuesday, January 4, 2011


In December I was in conversation with a couple of my colleagues and the topic of technology came into the discussion. Both of these colleagues teach on-line, one entirely and one partially. They were making the point that I just didn’t understand the demands of such work – that they were forced to work more and harder in order to teach in that particular environment than I do in a traditional, face-to-face classroom. Hmmm.

I know that one of the difficulties of the working world is the comparisons. We have been raised in a competitive culture – where it is rewarded to do better than the person next to you. One of the things that engenders, then, is the tendency to compare ourselves to others. We look at others to make sure that they are working as hard as we are – putting in the same effort, the same time. I think that it is also human nature to assume at some level (perhaps unconscious) that we work harder, better, longer than others around us. It certainly is consistent with that tendency in perception that we teach in the Interpersonal classes – “we see ourselves in the best possible light.” I know that I succumb to this tendency as well. I think (hope) I’m just not quite so quick to say that thought out loud to one of my colleagues!

I admit that I didn’t react all that well. I suggested that we all work hard and I didn’t really believe that they worked any harder than the rest of us – they just worked ‘differently.’ One of them then asserted that I just didn’t understand the demands and expectations that have been put on them – answering emails at 3 am, for example. That’s where I really lost it. I asserted that they were feeding me a line of crap and that I didn’t believe a word of it! How’s that for direct? I told them very clearly that in my opinion they both needed to get a life and set some boundaries! (And yes, I know I could have said it a little more gently.) I answer student emails from home. I answer student emails on weekends. I do NOT answer student emails at 3 am. And, if any administrator ever tells me that I need to be answering student emails at 3 am, then it’s time for a chat with my union grievance representative!

This morning when I logged on to my Facebook page there was a posting from the college’s Humanities and Fine Arts page. It contained a link to an article in today’s edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education that focused on some of the latest technologies that can enhance our teaching. In this article, the author makes reference to a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas who keeps his syllabi loaded on a hand-held device so that “when a student emails to ask about an assignment deadline while Mr. Parry is at the grocery store, he knows.”

Really? Now I’m expected to answer a student email while I’m at the grocery store?

Please don’t misunderstand. I believe in being available to my students to answer questions. If a student wants me to look at a rough draft or an outline, or has a question about a concept that they are trying to understand as they study for the next exam, I am more than happy to respond to those questions, even at home, even on the weekend. But carrying my syllabi around so that I can tell a student when a paper is due while I’m buying my groceries seems beyond a reasonable expectation to me. That student was given a copy of the syllabus when they enrolled for the course. They can just as easily look up that information as I can. Why on earth should I be responsible for taking charge of that student’s calendar or schedule? This hardly seems like helpful help to me. One of the skills we all need to learn is the ability to track and manage our own deadlines and responsibilities.

It seems to me that with this increasing encroachment of technology into all our lives we all need to be more diligent about setting some boundaries. You don’t have to answer your cell phone every time it rings. You don’t have to respond to a text message the moment it comes in. You don’t have to reply to an email at 3am. We all need down time – private time. We need time to breathe, time to think, time to relax, time to imagine. Not putting boundaries on the technology demands in our lives eats away at the margin- the white spaces in our lives that allow us to do that necessary regrouping.

So, we’re gearing up to start a new semester. I intend to be available to my students. I intend to be responsive and flexible. I intend to do my job well. I intend to do so with clear boundaries about where my work life ends and my personal life begins.

Today’s image comes from

1 comment:

  1. Does anyone remember the old Sunday "blue laws" that established that almost all businesses were closed on Sunday? Gradually those laws were changed, of course, and perhaps 20 years ago, retailers began touting 24/7 retail hours.

    I have often thought of the havoc that this wrecks on communities and families--when we cannot depend on any one hour or day being available to...everyone. Family dinners? Not so much -- if a teenager works the 6-10 shift at McDonald's or The Gap.

    Now online education is being promoted as 24/7-- and one more effect is that another segment of the population is being conditioned to put no structure on their lives but to expect to be able to not only shop but to go to school 24/7--at their convenience. The result is that everyone is sort of occupied all the time -- or expects to be or ...needs to be?

    Someone one said that one of the real advances in civilization was the establishment of the sabbath -- a day free of work. I am not sure that we are advancing toward a more civilized world with 24/7 as the mantra.