Pic of baby and me in hospital. Five minutes later, I was grading. For real.

Balancing classes and baby

So: I had a baby. And the semester wasn’t quite over so when I got home from the hospital I had to do some grading with a newborn and no sleep. Surprisingly, it worked out ok thanks to some advanced planning, some technology, and a lot of help.
First, I need to thank my department colleagues for being super understanding, and Doug Sanford in particular for being the designated paper-signer in my absence. The other person that saved my semester was Mary Kayler. Without her, my FSEM would have been a HUGE problem.
The FSEM included four presentations over the course of the semester, with one at the very end. Since I knew I wouldn’t be there for that one I asked Mary to judge the last round. Not only did she enthusiastically agree, she also sat in on a round of presentations earlier in the semester so she would know what to expect from the students. Plus, that way the students were also introduced to her, which lowered their presentation anxiety. It was a win-win!

In addition to lining up amazing people willing to help, I also used technology and planned ahead carefully to avoid nasty surprises.

Of course I designed my syllabi to minimize last-minute work and front load my classes as much as possible. But I didn’t know when the baby would come exactly so there was only so much I could do. This required some contingency plans, just in case.
For instance, I prepared my grades as they stood at Thanksgiving and sent them to the registrar: that way, if I was unable to get my grading done on time, students wouldn’t be left up the creek. Experienced profs know that most students’ grades don’t change that much if at all after 3/4 of the semester. I figured worst case scenario, I would just change a few grades after the fact. Of course, because I planned ahead, it never came to that. I think of it as the bring-an-umbrella-so-you-won’t-need-it technique.

Miss D modeling the umbrella technique way back when she was two years old. She's always been ahead of the curve.
Miss D modeling the umbrella technique way back when she was two years old. She’s always been ahead of the curve.

Lots of other planning had to happen, though, to keep the train on the rails. If you’ve ever had a baby, you know that extra brainpower isn’t exactly plentiful once the sleep deprivation starts. So to make grading with newborn feasible I had to make sure the work would be easily accessible. For my FSEM, this wasn’t a problem: all the assignments were handed in in PDF format anyway. For HISP 405, however, I had to change the format of the final assignment. Usually, I ask students to submit their National Register nomination EXACTLY the way the National Park Service wants it, on a CD-R. But that wasn’t going to work for me this year: I knew I needed to be able to grade everything on my iPad, since I don’t have a laptop. And anyway laptops don’t have CD drives anymore.
A few weeks before the assignment was due I explained the new standards in class, and even provided a screenshot to make sure things were clear. Students all shared a Dropbox folder with me to make things easy. This worked beautifully: they were able to share data-heavy docs including the tiff photos required for the project in a format I was able to easily access on my iPad.

The screenshot I shared with my students. Makes following instructions waaaay easier.
The screenshot I shared with my students. Makes following instructions waaaay easier.

Was I a bit more lenient in my grading than usual? Maybe, but I can blame my adorable daughters for that. The important thing is that I got through my last semester responsibilities in plenty of time to enjoy the holidays with my family. It was a Christmas miracle!

Pic of baby and me in hospital. Five minutes later, I was grading. For real.
Five minutes later, I was grading. For real.

My experience is far from unique. Fact is, professors have babies all the time. Some are able to schedule their baby’s arrival *just so*. Others take a whole semester off (that’s what I did the first time around). But there are also plenty who end up in the same situation as me: with a baby that arrives at a not quite convenient but still workable time. So if you’re a prof about to have a baby and freaking out a little that you won’t be able to keep it together: you can do it! I’m no expert in work-life balance, so if I can make it work, so can you.

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