Across the nation, faculty roles are becoming more complex and more demanding, says Catherine Ross, director of Wake Forest’s Teaching and Learning Center. The resulting stress affects both their personal and professional lives.
The University decided to combat the phenomenon this spring by hosting workshops and discussions for Wake Forest professors and faculty from other nearby North Carolina universities.
Ross created the Graylyn Teaching Renewal Retreat to give professors a space outside the pressures of the academic calendar where they could discuss their challenges with like-minded faculty and provide each other with resources and strategies for relaxation and more efficient teaching.
Eric Carlson, an associate professor of physics who joined Wake Forest in 1995, chose to attend the retreat to de-stress and gather new ideas. “After teaching for more than 20 years, it’s hard to be innovative. Creativity takes effort, and it can tire you out,” he says.
During one workshop focused on avoiding burnout, many faculty simply laughed or shook their heads when asked how they leave stress at the office. Biology professor Carole Browne was the first to respond: “We don’t.”
Browne said she has increasingly been taking her work home with her, and that “being a professor is more stressful now than it was 20 or 30 years ago.”
Ross explained that in higher education today, faculty feel pressure to stay at the forefront of research while remaining committed to teaching, especially at institutions such as Wake Forest where the teacher-scholar model is highly valued.
Sam Gladding, chair of Wake Forest’s counseling department, pointed to technology as another stressor. He said professors are “always on call” and that he gets email from students at all hours. Being a professor, he said, “keeps you on your toes. But if you stay on your toes, your feet get tired.”
To help professors identify their strengths and develop more efficient teaching strategies, Ross directed a workshop centered on sharing stories of both exceptional and disappointing teaching experiences. “When professors can recognize what they do to help students engage in the lesson, they can make those strategies a more intentional part of their teaching,” Ross said.
Faculty from the UNC-Greensboro, N.C. A&T and Elon attended the conference. Ross said that when faculty from diverse institutions share their experiences, it enriches the learning process. “I think we are challenged more by those who teach in other types of institutions because they don’t accept the answer that something is ‘common practice.’”
Carlson said that meeting with professors across institutions fostered a greater sense of community. “I’m more excited about teaching. I’m ready to try new things and experiment.”
— Ann Bauer (’12) Intern, Communications and External Relations