Quitting smoking quietly won’t solve the problem of burnout in academia (opinion)

If you work at a college or university, you’ve probably read some of the many news stories about how the big faculty quit is happening and faculty members are reporting higher rates and intensity of burnout. students. Recent polls indicate that half of university staff are considering quitting their jobs and some institutions are already struggling to fill positions. For those of us who intend to stay in higher education, all of these changes and discontent make it difficult to be optimistic about our career choice.

But have we perhaps discovered a solution to burnout that does not involve resignation? TikTok user @zkchillin’s recent video about “the silent shutdown” sparked a major conversation on social media and NPR. Quitting quietly basically means staying in your job but treating it like… a job. The TikTok user defines it as “you’re not outright quit your job, but you abandon the idea of ​​going beyond. You continue to perform your duties, but you are no longer subscribed to the shake up the culture mentality that work should be your life – the reality is that it is not.

“Going above and beyond,” however, seems to be exactly what is needed to do well and progress in academia. When I think of my successful faculty colleagues, I think of people who consistently go above and beyond in their research, teaching, and service. In fact, I sometimes wonder if they have more than 24 hours in their day, because how else would they make more than me?

And while some people may argue that academia doesn’t have a culture of hustle, it can certainly be felt that way by non-tenured faculty members. My own experience suggests that it’s the extra work that helps secure my job, beyond what my contract requires me to do.

In fact, many of us faculty members, tenured and non-tenured, are trying to figure out how to fit all of our work into some container because it has become a blob that spreads throughout our lives. We have lost the ability to draw a line between being at work and being at home, even if we are not working remotely. We care about our students and colleagues, justifying answering emails at all hours in case our efficient response makes life easier for someone else. We’ve said yes so much that saying no is scary, as if saying no could mean we’re not seen as valuable (a big worry for non-tenured professors and maybe other people as well).

Quitting quietly would certainly have an impact on the students we teach. We could recycle last year’s lesson plans and PowerPoint presentations and complete our teaching preparation. We could only respond to emails during office hours and only meet with students during our published office hours. We may counsel only students assigned to us and refer other students to other faculty members or counseling offices. We could use test banks to create multiple-choice exams and develop simple rubrics to mark written assignments more easily. Etc.

But quitting quietly sounds awful for students, and not much fun for teachers either. There has to be a better solution for burnout, one that doesn’t involve quitting college or staying, but simply hanging around each day with little or no enthusiasm.

For all of us returning to class now, let’s recapture the excitement that comes with the first few weeks of classes. Building a sense of community with our students as we present our program can remind us why we embarked on this work in the first place. We can, for example, use a gallery walk exercise to give students a chance to get out of their seats and interact with their peers. Or we can crowdsource a playlist so that we and our students can hear each other’s current favorite songs. I brush mine Contemplative methods of teachingshelved during the pandemic but badly needed now to help students really get to class and absorb the material.

Recommitting to our students shouldn’t mean more work for us. That said, I’m terrible at not going too far when preparing for a lesson. To make sure I don’t set myself up for more burnout, I now use a clocking app to monitor how much time I spend on my job and to remind myself to go out for family time. Stupid, maybe, but it reminds me to be more present, so I stick with it.

And I urge my non-tenured colleagues to creatively collaborate on ways to restore our own sense of values ​​in our institutions while saying yes only to invitations that nurture us instead of sucking more of our energy. There is a thin, invisible line here between fully engaging in scholarly service and pushing yourself. Being clear about your values ​​(beyond keeping your job!) allows you to use those values ​​when you are asked to participate in another committee, research project or similar.

For example, my key values ​​are belonging and collaboration. I am now actively looking for ways to join our efforts to create a sense of belonging for all students on my campus. Of course, I still have to say yes to regular committee assignments, but I’m now much better prepared to say no to invitations that don’t speak to these core values.

Perhaps we can also gently nudge our tenured colleagues to recognize that contingent faculty cannot stop jostling for fear of losing our precarious positions and ask for support from these colleagues as we affirm our worth. This means that we may have to show up again for faculty socials and look for ways to rebuild our relationships with each other. The pandemic has reminded us that we are all human, with cats, children and partners at home. Finding permanent allies who will support our ability to say no and defend our interests has always been crucial. Perhaps now that we have faced the challenges of teaching during the pandemic together, we can see each other’s value more clearly and ask for support will be easier.

As faculty members, we share the experience of educating students in our field and we inevitably build intellectual bonds and, if we are lucky, emotional bonds with each other. Quitting quietly involves dissolving those ties and simply showing up to do what our institution requires us to do. To me, that’s the worst potential outcome – that by walking away from our jobs, we end up walking away from the colleagues and students who make those jobs so interesting in the first place.

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