What Do Professors Do All Day? Sunday Edition

Richard Scarry's Busy, Busy TownIn which we continue the experiment started yesterday – blogging (for this week only) precisely how I spend my time as a Professor of English at Kansas State University. One goal is to demystify exactly what it is that professors do.

Sunday, 20 Feb. 2011.

12:35 – 7:55 am.  Asleep

7:55 – 8:10 am.  Checked email, Facebook, Twitter.

8:10 – 8:30 am.  Prepared to run.

8:30 – 9:17 am.  Ran 4 miles & (en route, in playground) did 25 chin-ups (17 underhand, 8 overhand).  As mentioned yesterday, I can’t call exercise part of my job, but I would say that staying in shape makes me better able to do my job – because teaching is performance.  If you’re doing four and a half hours of stand-up a week, it helps if you’re relatively fit.  This becomes especially important as one ages.  I’m relatively young (early 40s), but still.

9:32 – 10:12 am.  Post-run exercises.  Chronicling fitness routines threatens to turn this blog post into narcissism. On the other hand, professors do have physical bodies, and some maintenance is a good idea.  Well, I’ll leave out the specifics for the rest of the week, but will include them today.  105 sit-ups, 5 sets of “ab-crunches” (of different types, 40 for first set, 20 for other 4 sets), 50 bicycle kicks, 180 leg-lifts.  Rest. 60 push-ups.  Rest.  35 push-ups.

10:15 – 10:45 am With thanks to Betsy Bird’s Fuse #8 blog today, during breakfast I watched Weird Al Yankovic talk about meeting his hero Shel Silverstein.  I’d like to read Mr. Yankovic’s children’s book. I’ve been a fan of his since first hearing “My Bologna” and “Another One Rides the Bus” on the Dr. Demento Show, c. 1980.  Also – thanks to Gwen Tarbox on Facebook – re-read Jim Holt’s review of Logicomix, a graphic novel about Bertrand Russell & logic.  I encountered this review when it came out, made a mental note to read the book… and then forgot about it.  Will order a copy, along with the Yankovic book.

11:35 am – 12:15 pm.  After showering & answering email, graded some response papers for English 703.  I anticipate a large batch of these coming in on Monday, and am trying to stay on top of things. I give myself exactly a week to return any item – paper, quiz, response paper, etc.  This often results in “Procrastigrading” (i.e., grading everything on day 6), but in this instance that’s not so.  These came in on Friday.  I probably spent too much time grading them, but I see these (and my comments on them) as helping the students with the longer paper.  Also checked FB during this time – gratified and surprised to see that yesterday’s post has been so widely shared.

12:15 – 1:15 pm.  Lunch.  Read the comics, courtesy of the Kansas City Star.  Today’s Cul de Sac is further evidence of (strip creator) Richard Thompson‘s genius.  As I’ve remarked before, I highly recommend this strip.  And read some of the Sunday New York Times – I highly recommend Sabrina Tavernise’s “Reporting While Female,” which provides valuable context to the sexual assault on reporter Laura Logan.  Kim Barker’s “Why We Need Women in War Zones” is also well worth your while.

1:15 – 1:30 pm. Email correspondence regarding a conference panel I’m trying to assemble (or, rather, co-assemble).

1:30 – 3:05 pm.  Graded quizzes for two sections of English 355.  Also recorded the grades.

3:05 – 3:35 pm.  Guitar break.  Played songs by Leonard Cohen, the Ventures, Psychedelic Furs, & the Cure.

3:35 – 4:20 pm.  Personal emails, including my weekly note to my family – we’re scattered around the globe, but we do make the time for a weekly update.  In the interests of honesty, I confess that mine are sometimes a few days late.  But not this week!

4:20 – 6:00 pm.  Re-read and began preparing to teach Robin Bernstein’s “Dances with Things: Material Culture and the Performance of Race” (2009) in my English 703 class tomorrow.  First time I’m teaching this essay.  It’s a brilliant piece and, as I noted a couple of months back, I’m looking forward to her book – due out this year.  I also read Diane Ravitch’s “Why America’s teachers are enraged,” which I would recommend.  As I work each day, my thoughts are never far from the right’s assault on teachers, embodied most dramatically in the person of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who started his term with a surplus, gave tax breaks to businesses (squandering his surplus), declared a budget crisis, and then went after public employees.  The contempt with which he holds the citizens of Wisconsin is both stunning and sadly familiar.

6:00 – 7:30 pm.  Read more of Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie to Karin during dinner prep, and we watched the 17 Feb. Daily Show with dinner.  Also (with Karin) hung up some damp laundry-that-doesn’t-go-in-dryer.

7:30 – 9:30 pm.  Finished prep for English 703 class.  Excited to see what the students think of this essay!  Also: folded laundry (with Karin), & ordered the books mentioned earlier.  Sent email to panelists re: panel I’m trying to co-organize (mentioned earlier).

9:30 – 10:10 pm.  Washed dishes, fixed tomorrow’s lunch.  (No, I don’t count fixing lunch as work-related.)  Folded more laundry (with Karin).

10:10 – 10:55 pm.  Julia Mickenberg and I are co-authoring “Radical Children’s Literature Now!” – a keynote we’re giving at the 2011 ChLA in June.  In terms of the research we’ve done so far, she’s definitely ahead of me.  So, I’m trying to catch up.  Managed to write a little bit this evening.

10:55 – 11:05 pm.  Responded to student emails.  And then… gave up for the day.

I estimate today’s work at 7.5 hours.  A bit better than yesterday.  I’ve had Sundays where I did more, and Sundays where I did less.  But… all in all, this will have to do.  I’m going now (11:10 pm) to respond to a college friend.  The past few days have been “Univ. of Rochester Honors English 1991-1992” Reunion.  Heard from two folks from that class with whom I’d completely fallen out of touch.  Both found me via Facebook.  And then… bedtime!  I’d love to get in bed by midnight.  So frequently I take until 12:30 (or later!) – which isn’t great on a school day!

The rest of this series: Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, & What Do Professors Do All Week? (the final post).

More posts on academia from Nine Kinds of Pie (this blog):


  1. Gwen Tarbox


    Hi Phil:

    Like many of my colleagues, I’m also an informal mentor to students who are facing the sorts of difficulties that emerge when young people live away from home for the first time. Once or twice per week, I find myself walking a student over to the counseling center or to the advising office. These unofficial mentoring sessions are not part of my formal job description, yet they can make a significant difference in a student’s academic progress. Thus, it upsets me when I hear the current debate being set in purely economic language, when most of us are using our positions as educators to enhance students’ lives beyond the simple exchange of knowledge/tuition. I’m sure you will be addressing these issues this week, but I was inspired to add to your excellent effort here. I can’t wait to read tomorrow’s post. Best, Gwen.

  2. Reply

    Very interesting, though I wonder to what extent being under observation actually modifies your timetable… as a quantum scientist would probably point out.

    Such an American Sunday though, regarding physical exercise. Here in the UK we’d probably whine about the rain, go for a very short walk and then wolf down three servings of rhubarb crumble.

  3. Reply

    Thanks, Gwen and Clementine, for your comments. Gwen: When I was an undergraduate advisor (2002-2008), I did more of the work you describe. Now, I still mentor, of course, but it tends to be students in my own classes — and mostly graduate students.

    Clementine: amused by your “American Sunday” assessment, though it may well be true. Though I’ve been to the UK a number of times, I’ve never lived there. And it’s definitely true that being under observation makes one more conscious of time and how it’s spent. Indeed, I’m finding the experiment to be highly Foucauldian — living in my very own, homemade panopticon!

  4. Teya Rosenberg


    I’ll add my thanks for doing this blog, Phil. We all know that our work is intertwined throughout all of our hours (even sleeping–anyone else have teaching anxiety dreams?), but it is a comfort to see that knowledge expressed.

  5. Deborah Murray


    Though it would be difficult to detail, it’s also worth considering that some of that work-out time (and showering time) often includes the sort of brainstorming related to class prep. or other creative projects–at least it does for me! Interesting to read these last two posts!

  6. Reply

    Teya and Deborah: True! The brain never shuts off. While I’m jogging, I think — sometimes, I will start writing something while running and then transcribe it after I get home (not something that happened on Sunday, though). Or I might be thinking about what I’m going to do in class the next day. And so on.

    Oh, and regarding dreams: last night, I dreamed of Maurice Sendak. In my dream, we spoke on the phone and he invited me to visit him — which, in fact, he did do during our first telephone conversation. The dream was reminding me of my intention to write him a thank-you letter. Sharing his recollections of Ruth and Dave (Crockett J.), writing the foreword for Johnson’s Magic Beach (I did an afterword for it), and even reading an early (and, frankly, weak) partial draft of the bio. manuscript. I owe him many thanks.

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