A tale of two conferences: the postmortem on ASA in New York

Last weekend in New York City was productive and fun. I saw some old friends and met lots several new people (in real life and via Twitter).  I picked up some inventive teaching ideas.  I heard (mostly) first-rate research presentations.  I can’t say that I took all of my conference advice, frantically packing many outfits at the last minute and failing to rehearse my elevator pitch, but I did put myself out there.  Overall, I am really satisfied with my time away.

It’s strange, though, because I felt like I was at two different conferences.  I filled my docket with sessions about teaching, including a full day preconference with a room full of scholarly teachers AND sessions on the sociology of education, my chosen area of study.

I would start the day in a room where folks thought critically about their own teaching strengths, weaknesses, and ways to improve the experience for our undergraduate students in the classroom. These scholarly teachers discussed pedagogical strategies associated with deep learning.  They talked about their love of teaching and all of the ups and downs of the college classroom. The exchange of support and ideas was free-flowing and engaging.  Hell, it was downright inspiring at times to hear others share both their teaching success and their struggles.

Then, I’d switch gears and hit up a traditional research oriented paper session with several panelists discussing their research on education.  These sociology of education scholars examined facets of the larger system from school discipline to teachers’ expectations, to higher education funding (it’s a very big pool to swim in).  Here, the teachers factored into an equation or appeared in the field notes.  Talk of the college classroom was mostly missing, even from the discussion on student learning in higher education.

As a reflexive person, I was watching every presenter intently, trying to learn from their style and their materials.  Scholars who study teaching and who train teachers are quite gifted at modeling ideas for the classroom and at coaxing the best from new and seasoned educators. I picked up a few tricks, saw a few things I would never do, and came away with tons of ideas.

But on my drive home, my mind was spinning. I had been listening, thinking, and tweeting for 3 days (that’s over 500 tweets).  I feel uneasy straddling this world of research and teaching.  My conference time seemed disjointed when I wish it felt seamless.  I’ve been a teacher and a researcher for several years now, well before I was technically Dr. Leventhal-Weiner.  Now that I’m a card-carrying, fully initiated doctor, I’m still negotiating where I fit.

I kept asking myself, What are we doing here? Re-thinking teaching means re-thinking what we hope to accomplish in the classroom and at the institution broadly.  And being a productive researcher sometimes (more often than not, really) means devoting less time to your teaching responsibilities.  Many of my colleagues are perfectly satisfied with being average teachers.  I am not, though.  I take the responsibility of teaching my students very seriously (see here and here).  And because I study educational inequality, I take my research seriously, too.

What’s a girl to do other than feel disappointed? The reality of scholarly life keeps washing over me, reminding me that it is often two-faced. If I choose scholarly teaching, then my work isn’t valid in the discipline. If I choose scholarly research, then inevitably, I’m expected to devote less time to the classroom and my students.  It seems like both are losing propositions for me–something will suffer, right?  I haven’t even mentioned my personal life.

I don’t have too much time to dwell on things, though, because the new semester looms in front of me.  I already have plenty of things to keep me busy.

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About rglw

Sociologist mom writes for work and for pleasure.
This entry was posted in academia, higher education, lessons learned, research, sociology, teaching, work, writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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