Ok, this is not a Christmassy posting, but … Pressure can get to you. You begin to wonder how to cope with the never-ending commitments. You think you can manage, and are somewhat desperately clutching at straws, hoping to find an easy way out of the maelstrom. But finally you come face to face with the impossibility of meeting everything.
That’s in brief the story of the previous working week (number 51 by the calendar). The commitments involved coping with ongoing messages, updating results springing from the student ‘comments’ (we’re not allowed to call them complaints any more), then dealing with what the technical expert for the electronic environment called a ‘major disaster’ (someone had wiped out all the papers that the students had just submitted on one programme – fortunately I had already filed all papers, and after some hours’ work everything could be restored with nothing missing), then marking the student papers, editing and formatting the chapters for a book to be published next year, and somehow revising an article I had submitted to a journal. And what about the Christmas cards? What about the social life? A couple of Christmas festivities during the week too.
Something had to give. Many will recognize the problem of staring at a page and not managing to make the changes you know you have to make. Yes, search the relevant literature again. What’s the theoretical perspective underlying the article? A more challenging question than it sounds. I thought, I don’t have a theoretical perspective, or at least not a clear one. Yes, but you have a theoretical model underlying your propositions? Yes, I suppose so. Then make it clear. This is just the sort of comment I might add to an advanced student’s work: your underlying reasoning needs elaboration, I can’t follow what you’re on about it. Where is this coming from? And then, when I’m confronted with exactly the same myself, I freeze – the paper gets annotated (or the screen), bits move around, things get added and deleted, but the end result is no clearer. It’s like one of those many-thousand-piece jigsaws where nothing seems to fit together. You need to go away from it, come back with a fresh mind. But the deadline is looming. Sleepless nights of concern.
Finally, I confront the inevitable. There’s no way I can manage within the time with all the other work pressures. Cut the Gordian knot. Well, not really. But just withdraw, and hope to resubmit at a later date.
But then the withdrawal symptoms arise: what will the editor think? How could I let people down! We’ve got the space reserved in the coming issue. Now we have a major problem. Yes, I’ve reduced my ‘challenges’ by one, but given a problem to someone else. Vague memories come back of that management consultant back in the 1990s who came around with a toy monkey and placed it people’s backs – he was hoping to make a point. The fluffy toy was probably too cute. Or that first chapter of the time management book – it taught me a lot in 20 pages, especially that most of what we do is probably unnecessary, but realizing just how much I was doing ‘wrong’ (according to the time management expert) put me off reading any more. So I pass my ‘monkey’ to someone else (the editor), getting rid of an unnecessary task. But the anxiety is still there.And of course it’s good for a teacher to experience exactly what many of the students are going through. But there’s a difference. If I don’t submit, I gain a bit a time, and lower my stress levels. If they don’t submit, they fail. It can definitely be a more uncomfortable Christmas present for a student.