I have been promoted to Professor of Teaching! Woohoo! Since sharing the news about a week ago, I have received a wide variety of reactions from friends, family, and colleagues, on Twitter, Facebook, in person, and over email: congratulations ranging from ecstatic to calm; variations on “well, of course we all knew that was coming” and “aren’t you too young for that?”; as well as confusion (“weren’t you already a professor?” “didn’t you already have tenure?”) and inquiry (“does this mean your work will change?”)… and so on. Reflecting on this life transition, as well as such plurality of responses from others, has led me to this post. What does my promotion mean to me?
- The body of Teaching, Educational Leadership, and Service I have completed, as summarized in a dossier and CV I submitted one year ago (~200+ pages including appendices) has been reviewed and deemed worthy of promotion according to these criteria by individual reviewers outside UBC, teams of reviewers at the Departmental then Faculty of Arts then UBC-wide levels, and the UBC President himself.
- Here’s what I sent to my family: “Because my job is focused more on teaching than on research, my titles (starting with Instructor and then Senior Instructor with tenure, which I received in 2014) haven’t matched the usual “professor” titles (which start at Assistant Professor, then Associate Professor with tenure, then simply Professor). So although my job has been “equivalent” to a professor for a long time, my title has not reflected that. Until now. My new title, as of July 1, is Professor of Teaching!!! There are only about 35 or 40 of us with this title across the whole institution (about 1000 or more profs of various ranks)….”
The Little Things that Add Up to Feeling Valued and Respected and Authentic
- When a student calls me “professor” — as has been happening throughout 12 years of teaching — for the first time it’s actually true. My title is Professor of Teaching. That voice inside my head that says “well, not really” can just shut up now.
- For the first time, when someone at a conference asked today what I my role was at UBC, I had the option to quickly say “professor” or “professor of teaching” and they instantly knew what I meant. I didn’t have to choose between the generic “faculty” or fully explain my former title thusly: “Senior Instructor — which is UBC’s title for a tenured faculty member who specializes in teaching.” This new option gave me an exhilarating sense of authenticity.
- For the first time, the institution at which I work formally recognizes that the work I do is Professorial. I feel a greater sense of respect for the work I do.
- It means I don’t have to keep adding “(tenured faculty)” beside my title when I sign reference letters, so that the people I’m endorsing aren’t potentially harmed by my ambiguous title.
- It means I’m done synthesizing my body of work in a package for my work colleagues to evaluate (unless I choose to do so for some particular purpose).
The Relieving + Scary + Overwhelming + Exciting
I have jumped through the last hoop that Academia has laid out before me. Any title changes from now forward are because I’m actively choosing to shift my career focus. This is it. Since graduating from kindergarten, I have been in a seemingly (until now!) endless pursuit of the next diploma, the next degree (x3), the next title (x3)… but this is it. This is just starting to settle in. I am a person who still owns and can locate within about 10 minutes the achievement/outstanding student/excellence award plaques received in Grade 2 and Grade 8 and Grade 12. I am a clear example of how the education system can be considered a giant operant conditioning machine. But this is the last hoop. (If I want it to be, I suppose, but that’s different.)
This realization started out relieving, is currently sitting as rather terrifying, and I’m sure will shift more to exciting and empowering. Earlier today (at STLHE) I was at a session about mid-career faculty and a table-mate offered me this metaphor: I’ve been climbing a mountain and suddenly I’m staring at a plateau. This is helpful and overwhelming. I have 20+ years ahead — which is as long as it took me to get here since starting undergrad — to navigate without a finish line, a benchmark, a guidepost or a pathway provided by the educational institution. What do I do now? Of course I have courses and projects and priorities on the go, and perhaps more vision for the coming years than what I’m implying here. But for now, I’m allowing myself the discomfort of sitting at the top of the mountain, looking out onto a vast plateau.