It’s a big deal, this change from late December to early January.
Not that you’d think it was a big deal if you read this article, which, while fun to read, is more of a tongue in cheek series of quips about the biggest change to happen within the MLA since, well, ever.
The annual convention is now held during the first week of January, rather than right after Christmas. This is a fabulous change for the vast majority of MLAers who, on a traditional semester system have most of the month of January off anyway; however, for those of us on the quarter or early starting semester systems, the convention happens during the first week of classes.
The article quotes one person, a graduate student, as dismissing this as a minor inconvenience: “the first week is probably the best week to have to attend a major academic conference.”
Well, perhaps that’s true if you are a graduate student and perhaps your professor cancels the class because she, too, is at the MLA, but if you are the professor? And if you are a non tenure track professor working quarter by quarter at the will of the college that pays you?
I’ve arranged for experienced instructors to sub for me during the classes I will miss, but I still will have to deal with the fallout of missing the second day of classes for three sections. The first week of the term is when we are required to take attendance, drop non attendees,then deal with the wait list of students who want to add the class: administratively, the first week is a mess. The colleagues subbing for me know how to deal with the pressure we get from students during week one, and they are not at all looking forward to dealing with MY student pressures, as much as they care for me.
Then there is the need to establish a tone for the class, create a class “culture”: this is what happens during that very important first week, especially when the term is only 10 weeks long.
And about those 10 short weeks (not including Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, and the inevitable snow day): in a composition class, and I have three winter quarter, I need to get students started on the work that leads up to their first major assignment, the challenging rhetorical analysis, argument evaluation essay. Because I did not want to make my subs lecture, I’ve created an in class group assignment that at least moves students in the direction of analyzing and evaluating an article they will read for day 2: the subs will facilitate (in some ways much more exhausting than lecturing).
Now at my college, getting a sub requires begging other full time colleagues in my department (and the sub needs to be someone who has the credentials to “teach” the class) to sub for me with bribes of wine, cookies or return subbing. Sometimes, especially when I teach at a prime time, getting a sub within my department is impossible and I just cancel the class (something I simply cannot do during week one).
But, I still get paid.
For part time and adjunct faculty, missing classes means missing the pay check. And, unless they can get a full timer to sub for them, that’s what happens because if a part timer subs for anyone, that part time is required to be paid by the department, which, of course, is not encouraged, especially in a department that is usually overbudget by November.
This has led to a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” system where we sub for each other under the radar. It has been working, but for those off the tenure track, it’s a risk.
Should my college make allowances so that part timers/adjuncts/all faculty can attend the national convention of our discipline as part of our professional improvement? Well, that would be nice. But, there are other conferences we can attend, conferences that do not happen during the first week of a quarter: it’s difficult to argue that attendance at THIS particular convention is vitally important.
But, you ask, what about those faculty members, TT or NTT, with job interviews at the MLA?
Oh, that’s right, there aren’t any.
There are other changes that I’m all for: sessions at the annual convention this year will now end by 6:30, allowing us all more time to get inebriated, and, presumably, more time to change the stereotype of MLAers as more interested in scotch drinking than sexcapading.
So there’s that.