The academic year varies in intensity. The typical structure of an academic year has 2 teaching semesters, or 3 teaching terms with shorter breaks between them and then a long break in the summer.
Everyone involved needs time to recover and recharge, and to integrate knowledge.
Similarly, it is common to build in a reading week, in which no classes are scheduled, in the middle of semester. While in some places, that reading week may have become an opportunity for more financially well off students to go on holiday (skiing and beach holidays are both popular in North America in the semester 2 break), the real intention of that break is to vary the intensity, allowing time for reading, reflection, catching up, and so on.
I have written before about how academic staff (who may be called faculty where you live) should not assume that they need to continue working at the same intensity during these breaks from scheduled teaching, even if they are working. These cycles in the year are important to how you plan the relationship between teaching and research, how you plan the relationship between different types of teaching-related work, and how you manage your energy both through management of your working day and by taking annual leave (which you may call vacation time).
Adjustments to these cycles in response to the pandemic
The Covid pandemic has made everything more stressful. You need rest more than ever. (I wrote about this last week.) You are probably doing more teaching preparation than usual, to adapt things for a different format. You are working in less-than-ideal conditions. There is likely more emotional labour involved in interactions with students and colleagues. And then there are all the personal impacts of the disease: the inability to do many of your usual stress relief activities, perhaps also increased financial and other stresses.
You may be struggling to figure out how to get that rest, especially with the collapse of a physical boundary between home and work. To top it off, in response to the pandemic, universities have made changes to the typical shape of the academic year. The beginning of semester may have been delayed. I’ve heard of some institutions switching from 12 week semesters, in which a full load is 4 or 5 courses, to 6 week intensive semesters, in which a full load is 2 or 3 courses.
And your reading week (or spring break) may have been cancelled in an effort to discourage unnecessary travel. Even if it still exists, it may now be in an odd spot in relation to the teaching weeks because you started late.
Get creative to get rest
You need rest. Your students need rest. No one does their best work when exhausted.
If you still have a reading week, then plan for rest during that week. I’ve written about that here: What does reading week mean for you? You may also find “What is your plan to rest” helpful. You can take some, or all of it, as annual leave/vacation time. You can take a long weekend at the beginning to recharge, then work in a more relaxed way for the rest of the week before taking a proper weekend at the end. You could decide this will be a 30-hour work week (5 x 6 hour days with a proper lunch break in each) to keep your average over the semester closer to 40 hours.
If reading week has been officially cancelled, structure your plan for the course content to have a week for integration, reading, etc. It’s okay if you don’t do this in the same week as your colleagues. That means a lower intensity week for your students. If you all do it, and coordinate to stagger them, then students will have several lower intensity weeks in the middle of term.
While it makes sense to spread the work out over the semester, you don’t have to spread it out evenly. Intensive working is effective for many people. Intensive working to a deadline can be particularly effective for getting things finished.
- How do you imagine your students’ energy patterns through the semester in your module?
- How do your preparation and feedback tasks ebb and flow through the semester?
- Can you tweak your plans to create more ebb and flow in the structure?
- Is there any content you can remove from your plan?
- Would this give you and your students flexibility to take longer over one topic?
- Or take a week for reading, writing, and thinking (perhaps with an office hour for questions?
- How could you model work habits that treat rest as a foundation for good intellectual work?
You are not lazy
Yes, I can hear your gremlins from here. I know some of the real live humans in your life may also accuse you of this. I wrote about this several years ago (updated and republished this week).
I also recommend a podcast interview with Devon Price, psychologist and author of Laziness Does Not Exist. There is a transcript if you prefer to read rather than listen. You can be “lazy” and just listen to the podcast, rather than reading the whole book right now. (Though by all means add it to your TBR pile.)
Spoiler alert: the accusation of laziness is a tool of colonialism, white supremacy, and class exploitation.
This post was originally sent out to recipients of my newsletter on Friday 22. Click here to sign up to the newsletter to get exclusive first access and to make sure you don’t miss a post!