Three Challenges of Early-Career Faculty and the Importance of Self-Care

Three Challenges of Early-Career Faculty and the Importance of Self-Care

Aaron Samuel Zimmerman (Texas Tech University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-5065-6.ch010
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Abstract

This chapter presents three challenges associated with being an early-career faculty member: learning to teach in the context of higher education, learning to advise in the context of higher education, and learning to cope with organizational change. After describing the nature of these challenges in detail, the framework of self-care is introduced. Seven strategies are presented: insisting that your students take responsibility for their actions, learning to say no, learning to identify burnout in your colleagues, establishing a network of family and friends, scheduling breaks throughout the day and doing things you enjoy, taking care of yourself physically, and not trying to be perfect. The aim of this chapter is for readers to understand more comprehensively (some of) the challenges associated with becoming an early-career faculty member and to acquire some strategies that can help one to cope with these challenges before, during, and after experiencing these challenges.
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Introduction

This chapter illuminates the nature of navigating the professional career waterfall. In this chapter, the author will describe three challenges associated with this waterfall and will also describe self-care as a safe harbor as individuals traverse their post-professional degree experiences. The three challenges presented in this chapter are as follows:

  • Early-career faculty must learn to how to teach in the context of higher education

  • Early-career faculty must learn how to advise undergraduate and graduate students

  • Early-career faculty must learn to cope with organizational change

After these three challenges are presented in detail, the framework of self-care will be introduced as a strategy to prepare oneself for these career challenges.

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Learning To Teach In Higher Education

Not all early-career faculty members have served as teachers in the elementary or secondary context (LaRocca & Bruns, 2006; Vidal & Quintanilla, 2000). Whereas K-12 teachers are often, but not always, prepared for their work through professional preparation and teacher education, early-career higher education faculty must sometimes begin their teaching assignments with little or no professional preparation (Finnegan & Hyle, 2009; Hemmings & Kay, 2009). Thus, beginning one’s career in higher education can involve learning how to teach, more generally, and learning how to teach undergraduate and graduate students, more specifically.

Learning to teach requires learning how to respond to student questions and misunderstandings, how to assess students’ learning, how to prepare for class, how to deliver effective and engaging lessons, and how to prepare students most effectively for their own chosen undergraduate majors and post-professional degree career paths. Unless faculty members feel confident in relation to all of these dimensions of curriculum and instruction, faculty members’ self-efficacy and job satisfaction may suffer (Alkathiri & Olson, 2019; Bailey, 1999; Gaff & Lambert, 1996; C. Gonzales, 2001; Noser, Manakyan, & Tanner, 1996).

Even if an early-career faculty member possesses previous teaching experience in the K-12 context or in the context of training, coaching, and professional development, teaching in the context of higher education presents its own set of unique curricular and instructional challenges. Many higher education students may enter into their coursework without the prerequisite knowledge or skills to succeed (for example, students may not possess the writing skills necessary to succeed in graduate-level coursework). Furthermore, higher education faculty must adjust to teaching classes that are increasingly delivered in an exclusively online format, which presents its own set of instructional challenges (for example, having limited synchronous interaction with the students). Additionally, many university courses are characterized by incredibly large enrollment (for example, 100 students or more). Thus, higher education faculty must learn to meet the needs of individual learners within a demanding intellectual context while simultaneously being compelled to cope with the online teaching context and the context of large course enrollment. Hence, becoming an effective teacher in the context of higher education can be especially challenging, even for early-career faculty with extensive elementary or secondary teaching experience (Karagiannis, 2009; Knight & Trowler, 2000; Mouraz, Lopes, & Ferreira, 2013; Mulryan-Kyne, 2010).

To help faculty to address these curricular and instructional challenges, many universities have established centers of teaching and learning that serve the university through professional development for faculty (Felten, 2013; Kreber, 2005; McKinney, 2007). Even with these resources, however, developing one’s teaching can remain a challenge in the professional life of an early-career faculty member, especially given that a given university’s promotion and tenure guidelines may not weight teaching excellence as heavily as contributions to research and scholarship (Bailey, 1999; Chalmers, 2011; Hekelman, Zyzanski, & Flocke, 1995; Vidal & Quintanilla, 2000). With only so much time and energy to devote to the development of one’s teaching (Bellas & Toutkoushian, 1999; Milem, Berger, & Dey, 2000), an early-career faculty member must figure out how to devote time to mastering the craft of teaching in the context of higher education while simultaneously developing and advancing his or her own research agenda.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Organizational Restructuring: The process by which academic departments, colleges, and universities reform themselves to adjust to new university initiatives, budgetary restrictions, or additions of new faculty or administrative leaders.

Burnout: The process by which professionals experience increased depersonalization, emotional exhaustion, and stress in response to the demands of their work.

Faculty Advisors: Faculty who are responsible for advising undergraduate and graduate students, around issues including, but not limited to, degree plans, course progress, academic challenges, acclimation to campus life, and the academic and non-academic job search.

Engaged Scholarship: A branch of scholarship in higher education focused on serving the public good by partnering with local stakeholders and addressing problems of real concerns with local communities.

Self-Care: The process of intentionally cultivating one’s wellbeing by focusing on one’s physical and emotional wellbeing as well as surrounding oneself with a network of supportive colleagues, friends, and family.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: A branch of scholarship that studies the curriculum and instruction of higher education, including the teaching and learning of undergraduate and graduate students.

Faculty Peer Mentoring: Mentoring relationships set up between early-career faculty members and more experienced peer faculty members; mentoring conversations can focus on teaching in higher education, advising in higher education, establishing a research agenda, and progressing towards promotion and tenure.

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