Worrying About What Matters

I’m at home with the flu today (I could have taught today, but the doctor was very clear yesterday that I should be fever-free to 24 hours before returning to work), and I’m missing being in the classroom.  Everything will be fine, as I’ll adjust the schedule and go on, but being out of class reminds me about what really matters.

Our school starts off each semester with a few days of meetings.  Many colleges and universities do this, so we’re far from the exception.  Some years those meetings are more substantive than others.  Right now, we’re going through the SACS accreditation process, so they’re clearly important, but they don’t actually impact me all that much.  Our of the four things we’re talking about, I already do a couple of them, and I was moving toward adding another.

In other years, we’ve had meetings about things that don’t impact me at all.  They may be things that change parts of the university rather drastically, but, as far as my day-to-day teaching life goes, I’ll never be able to tell the difference.  Honestly, most decisions that are reached around the university don’t change how I teach my classes or much of anything about my life.

Thus, I’ve made it my goal not to worry about such things.  If someone wants to change the design of the webpage (just for an example), it’s not worth my time to worry about, even if I think the move is an awful one.  We’ve been debating adding a football team for the past few years.  We decided against it, but I wouldn’t have been bothered if we would have added it.  My guess is that it would have added maybe one football player a semester to my classes.  I haven’t had trouble with our athletes in the past, so I’m not sure why I would worry about adding one more.

The only part of my academic life I can control is what happens between the four walls of my classroom.  I can dictate the type of work students will do and how they behave for that amount of time.  I can’t even control how much they will learn, though I can do my best to try to make my class significant in an academic sense (as well as a life sense, but I can’t even control that).

The faculty members I have known who were unhappy with their jobs have been people who worried about the things they had no control over.  They spend hours talking with people, maybe even writing emails or setting up meetings with people, about these issues that didn’t affect their lives or their classrooms.  They were miserable in their jobs, even though they had great classes, supposedly the main reason they were there.  They would even admit that they had great classes, if you pushed them hard enough.

I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t be aware of what goes on across our campuses and that we shouldn’t get involved in those decisions (I can understand how one could make the argument that having or not having a football team matters greatly, though I would still disagree).  I would argue, though, that the bulk of our attention and energy should go toward our classrooms (or research, if you’re at a place that values that).  If we’re doing good work there, our lives are generally quite enjoyable, at least our academic lives.  If we focus on controlling what we can control, we’ll spend more time on those areas that can make us most satisfied.

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