I quit my job.

Today is my official last day at my current job, a position that has given me incredible experience, educational advancement, challenges for personal growth, and colleagues who have become my friends. And really good pay to boot! I went to college to be an English teacher, but after graduating I quickly realized I wasn’t ready for a high school classroom. (I would have been eaten alive, and I don’t mean by zombies.) So I went to college, part 2, to be a person who studies literature and puts off getting a real job a little longer. During my first year in grad school, I was a graduate student assistant, which those of you who have done anything similar know essentially means a hard-working, poorly-compensated instructor. (But we wouldn’t trade that experience for the world!) During that year, I realized that I enjoyed teaching college students–they were a little bit more mature and motivated than high school students, and I only had to see them 1-3 times per week, for about an hour at a time!

During my second year in grad school, though, I accepted a full-time staff position in the Graduate Writing Center. I took it because I was flattered to be offered it (by my thesis chair, to whom I owe both my career path for the past 10 years and my interest in Victorian literature) and because the pay and working conditions sounded better. I started as the instructor for a graduate-level basic writing course (I was teaching grad students before I had finished my master’s—talk about imposter syndrome!); two years later, I became the director of the Graduate Writing Center, and eventually I became the director of nearly all of our university’s tutoring services. I had never intended to go into writing center work (which is a field of its own, a vibrant and growing one), but I professionalized myself into the field: reading the major journals, attending conferences, getting involved in organizations, and learning to speak the writing center language. All along, though, I was still thinking of myself as a teacher, picking up courses even though my eventual faculty contract didn’t require me to teach (even though this made me crazy busy) and trying to stay current in the fields I would be teaching. When it came time to get my Ph.D., I didn’t go for a degree in writing center studies, nor even composition, but literature and criticism. The degree wasn’t practical for my job, but it was practical for the career in teaching that I still believed I would have.

As time went by, I received advancement opportunities, leadership experience, and pay increases for which I was (and still am) grateful. But trying to have both my administrative career and a teaching career on the side was making me crazy, and often it was my “real” job as the tutoring center director that suffered. I knew I should give something up, but while the classes were where my passion truly lay, the administrative work was where most of my pay and all of my benefits came from. And, let me be clear, I didn’t hate that work. It just wasn’t what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life.

So a couple of years ago, I started applying for jobs elsewhere–not just in other schools, but in other states, where I could hit “reboot” on my life, reassessing things that were cluttering up my schedule and my mental space–not just professionally, but personally. And just last month, I received a job offer that would allow me to do so, and I took it. For the first time in my academic career, I won’t be a director of anything; I’ll just be a plain professor (well, associate professor). And I’m very happy about that.

I’m not sure what this will mean for my plans to rebrand this as a Hufflepuff leadership blog, since I won’t be in a leadership position anymore except insofar that all teachers are leaders in a sense. I’m thinking about making it more of a (sometimes Hufflepuff) emotional intelligence blog, which is basically what it has been recently. I’d still like to use my fictional characters Patrick Weasley and Becky Weasley, and maybe even Sam Larson, who appeared last week. As always, I am open to your suggestions.

As Bilbo Baggins once said (in the movie The Hobbit; please don’t hate me for quoting it), “I’m going on an adventure!” I’m glad you, my readers, will be adventuring with me.

Hufflepuff Leadership: a bit more explanation

Based on the copious positive feedback I received on last week’s post, I plan to move forward with the Hufflepuff Leadership project, but as you can see, I haven’t taken any steps yet toward changing the look of the blog.  I did receive an offer of free design work that I’m definitely going to take up, and I have an idea about the cover illustration.  I thought it would be fun to find a picture of a badger (the Hufflepuff mascot) in a business suit, and of course, this made me think about Badger from The Wind in the Willows.  I’ll probably need to check copyright/fair use issues if I’m going to use the picture as part of my brand, but just for this post, I think it’s probably okay to show you this example that I found on someone’s Pinterest: Wind in the WillowsOkay, it’s not exactly a business suit he’s wearing, but Mr. Badger definitely appears to be in a leadership role in this picture, wouldn’t you say?

As I mentioned last week, I’m thinking of writing from the perspective of a Hufflepuff prefect.  It just so happens (I’m about to get weirdly confessional here) that I have invented what amounts to a Mary Sue character (a character in fan fiction who is essentially the author inserting him/herself into the story) named Rebecca (my middle name), or Becky, Weasley (she’s married to Charlie!), who is a Hufflepuff alum and former prefect.  I also made up a Weasley nephew named Patrick who is a current Hufflepuff prefect.  I don’t know if I’ll use these characters extensively because I’m a little embarrassed about disclosing the extent to which my unwritten fan fiction has gone, but now that I’ve introduced them to the world, I guess they’ll at least have to make occasional appearances.

I’ll probably kick off the new project with a series of posts about the basic principles of Hufflepuff leadership.  I’ve already thought of clever aphorisms to express a couple of these, such as “A soft heart does not equal a soft head.”  I’ll illustrate these principles with my own experience, research on emotional intelligence and other concepts from various fields, conversations with colleagues, and of course, Hufflepuff students and graduates from the Harry Potter canon.  Also, based on responses from last week, it sounds like I have a good team of writers who can give us the Griffyndor, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin perspectives on these issues as well.

I also mentioned last week that not all posts from here on out will necessarily be directly focused on the theme.  For example, this past weekend, I attended the Southeastern Writing Center Association conference, and I deliberately chose sessions on concepts that I could see myself writing about on this blog: vulnerability, burnout, mentoring–topics from the non-cognitive side of tutoring.  From time to time, I will report on events like these (as well as books I’m reading, movies I’ve seen, etc.) and may not necessarily use the language of Hufflepuff leadership, but I won’t stray far away from topics my regular readers will be interested in.

As always, let me know what you think!


IWCA recap

I just got back from the International Writing Centers Association conference in Denver.  Besides a gorgeous view of the Rockies, some Mellow Mushroom pizza, and a lot of dedicated time for grading in a quiet, cushy hotel room, I got a whole slew practical strategies and provocative topics of consideration that I can apply to my own institutional context.  This post, in which I highlight a few of those strategies and provocations, is clearly pitched toward my writing center colleagues, but you might find something interesting even if if you’re not entirely sure what a writing center is.

  • I went to a session on dissertation boot camps, a type of event in which doctoral students try to knock out as much writing as they possibly can while in a supportive environment (support = writing consultants/coaches, coffee, and food).  I’ve been hearing and reading about dissertation boot camps for several years now, but this time was different, because I’m now on my way to joining the ranks of the cool kids who have actually hosted them.  This morning I tossed the idea to our very proactive on-staff Ed.D. dissertation consultant, and as of this afternoon we’ve taken the first steps toward scheduling a weekend dissertation-writing event (I’m not sure how I feel about the term “boot camp”) for next spring.
  • I went to several sessions about writing center space, and in one of them, we were all asked to draw a picture of our current space and one of our ideal space.  Although I half-jokingly told a fellow participant that the session had sent me back to feeling depressed about our space–which I had been starting to make peace with–the session actually forced me to think about what we can do with our space, other than whining about it.
  • The last two sessions I went to got me thinking about the “personality” of our writing center–the image it projects to people who walk through the door or encounter our people outside of the actual physical space.  In one session, a director presented the results of an “inclusivity audit” she had performed by asking faculty members from other departments to visit the center and comment on the ways in which it made them feel welcomed, excluded, etc.  One faculty member said that the center appeared too “English-y” (e.g., there were inside-jokey posters about literature and grammar; there were too many books as part of the decor).  My initial reaction was to roll my eyes and say, “Of course there are books in a writing center!,” but if we profess to serve writers from all disciplines, then we may be sending a conflicting message if we project an image of welcoming only one discipline.
  • In the next session I went to, there was a presentation about whether writing center tutors identify themselves as writers.  This is another case in which we might want to say “of course,” but six of the 15 surveyed tutors did not see themselves as writers, which raises a whole lot of questions about how we define “being a writer” and whether the students who visit the writing center feel out of place because they don’t see themselves as writers, either.  Another presentation during this session was about Myers-Briggs types, which is the whole reason I went to the session (I’m a sucker for a good MBTI discussion).  The presenter’s argument was that Idealist types–NFs–are overrepresented in writing center work, while they make up only a small percentage of the U.S. population at large.  I spent most of this session trying to decide whether I actually am an Idealist (this is a perennial identity crisis for me–I usually say I’m ISFJ, but sometimes I skew toward INFJ), but I also thought, again, about the image our center may be projecting.  Are we saying that only dreamy, abstract, creative types (obviously, I’m overgeneralizing) are welcome to come discuss writing with us?  I suggested at the end of the session that all the presenters (there was one more excellent presentation I haven’t even discussed here) should do a mega-study about the writing center’s personality, but really, I want to do my own study on this topic here at my own institution.

Also, I want to get a Mellow Mushroom in Central Virginia.  Can someone start working on that?