My Annual Report of Unreportable Achievements

It’s annual report writing time at my university and I had to send mine in yesterday, my first of three deadlines for this report. There’s a form we have to use when detailing our contributions and activities from the past year, and because my employer is a big university with many types of departments and positions, this form has a lot of categories. So many categories. All asking to be filled. Have a look at the list below — which I’ve already shrunk and edited to fit onto two pages. I challenge you not to feel inadequate:

Like every year, I was full of anxiety yesterday as I made my way through this form. I worried about not having done enough in the past year. I also felt slightly resentful about how these reports with their long lists of categories (reports which will then be competitively evaluated in various committees) do their part in ensuring our perpetual state of overwork.

As a countermeasure, with no deadline to plague me, I tried to re-focus myself today by writing an alternative version. A shadow report. My annual report of unreportable achievements.

GENEROUS TEACHING (MORE TIME-CONSUMING THAN INNOVATIVE)

Whenever I could, I made extra office hours available for students to be able to talk their research projects through. We writing studies instructors have a lot of demands when we ask students to produce original research. Students can find these projects daunting, and are often confused. Talking during office hours seems to help the most. In most of my classes, I requested that all students come for at least one such consultation. And then I did my best to not only steer their research in a good direction but also to convey the necessary enthusiasm for each project— even when it was already 4pm and I’d seemingly lost all intellectual spark after having thought myself into 10 different approaches. Those were draining days. But the projects handed in at the end of the term were much the better for it, and students were more confident and excited. I doubt this can be scaled to create international impact; and the most in technology I used for that activity was a Google docs signup sheet. Sorry.

PROFESSIONAL CARE OF THE SCHOLAR’S BODY

After letting a shoulder inflammation fester for 3 months (while teaching 4 courses), I finally found time to seek treatment, and even managed to stick with the imposed exercises, mostly. Now, 3 months into treatment, I’m learning recovery of muscle movements around the shoulder joint takes a good deal of time. But, lo, my teaching and collaborating can be a lot kinder when writing and carrying things doesn’t hurt quite so much. Does that count as an achievement?

Also, we had an awesome yoga class happening at work, arranged with a workplace grant by a wonderful administrator. I hope she takes all the credit for it on her annual report form! Can I please put down that while I didn’t organize any such classes, I’m happy I managed to attend yoga class for the term where it didn’t conflict with my teaching? Overall, I’m proud I kept up an acceptable amount of exercise throughout both busy terms. My mental health is better than it was last year, and I gained inspiration for my own teaching by watching closely how my excellent dance and acrobatics instructors do it.

SERVICE TO DEPENDENTS DURING REPORTING PERIOD

I have two children who are full of projects, stories, and plans that don’t seem to fit into a Spartan regime of “wake, eat, dress, brush teeth, leave” and “eat, clean dishes, undress, brush teeth, sleep” at maximum time efficiency. I had to make a very conscious effort to not work after 5pm (sorry, colleagues, for all the emails for which there simply wasn’t time). I did my best to get as much as possible done between 9 and 5, and then had to make peace with the fact that no project or lesson plan could be changed and improved after that.

For all my past years as a working parent, I’ve felt I had to work each day after the children went to sleep. But, for me at least, that’s the mother of bad ideas. I find it so stressful to have that extra work shift looming over family time (& sleep time), I become a very miserable parent. A short-fused, distracted, screaming parent. Who, by the time the children are in bed, is so spent and mad and angry, that the whole point of that pressure-cooker atmosphere — to make more time for work —is lost. For under those conditions, who can suddenly switch to happily developing interactive lesson plans or generously reading a few more student papers? It takes a while to wind down from that. Time that cuts into sleep. Cuts into sleep so deeply, it creates insomnia and compounds sleep deprivation to the point that it’s hard to maintain the will to live (and work). And let me tell you, my children’s evaluations of parenting go way downhill when I regularly work after hours. However, this past year, I’m pleased to report, citations of “Mama, I love you,” have risen significantly and now have a much higher impact factor than “Mama, I hate you” (which . . . I still get with some regularity).

So, there you have it, esteemed members of the merit committee. Closing with a stanza from Dorothy Livesay’s 1944 poem “Day and Night”:

“Day and night are rising and falling
Night and day shift gears and slip rattling
Down the runway, shot into storerooms
Where only arms and a note-book remember
The record of evil, the sum of commitments.
We move as through sleep’s revolving memories
Piling up hatred, stealing the remnants,
Doors forever folding before us —
And where is the recompense, on what agenda
Will you set love down? Who knows of peace?”

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