I never wanted to be an administrator. I worried about the social part of the job because what drew me to this profession, among other things, was the quiet work I could do at home, in coffee shops, in library carrels. In graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I was part of an administrative team, led by the generous and amazing Alice Gillam, and I did enjoy the work, especially the way it brought theory and practice into relief. But, I didn’t think I had a knack for administration (I must have had some idea that one is born, not made, an administrator!). And I worried that it would swallow up every ounce of writing that I would eventually want to do. Scholarship on administration offered no reprieve. Most of what I read cautioned WPAs, especially juniors, against burn-out, cynicism, and fossilization (for my essay on WPA work & disappointment, follow the Writing link). Message received: the job might do you in.
So, my first time on the market I was careful to avoid applying for jobs that required administration. The next time, though, I knew I’d have to reckon with the fact that, sooner or later, I’d be that over-scheduled, tense-looking person known as “the director.” Sure enough, I’m in my final year as WPA at UC in a department that last year taught over 8,000 students in required composition courses. And I find that I do like the work and that I’m getting better at it as time goes on. It is harder to find time and a clear head to write (thus, doing admin after tenure was the right choice for me) and there is lots of unpleasantness (like when the state makes its own placement procedures or when funding evaporates)….but, there are significant rewards attached to WPAing. Most gratifying to me: working with veteran teachers, revising curriculum, preparing new teachers for the classroom, and creating collaborative spaces for program development.
As of late, I’ve been thinking about alternative models of WPA work that value slowing down as vital to administrative health (and offer an antidote to becoming “the director” referenced above). I wrote about this in a piece called “For Slow Agency.” What’s been especially great about this job, I’ve come to realize, is that I feel more engaged with the field and with my own teaching and learning than I have in a long while. WPA work has a way of bringing all of the pieces together (sometimes unevenly) to illuminate the whole in interesting, new ways.