To Be Honest, Sometimes I Can’t Stand My Job

Last week was a tough one. Class registration for first year students opened up on Thursday and I still hadn’t met with 15% of my caseload. That meant that my walk-in time on Wednesday was sure to be chaotic and my students did not disappoint. By 12.30 pm, 9 students had been signed in to my queue (my walk-ins did not officially begin until 1 pm).

When I walked out to our waiting area, the line from our front desk led all the way back to our hallway. I couldn’t even see the students sitting down because of all of the students standing in front of them, waiting to check in for their respective advisor’s walk-ins. This scene is very common during registration week. As an introvert, however, it was still overwhelming.

Needless to say, I skipped my usual pleasantries (“How’s your semester going?”) and skipped straight to, “We have 15 minutes today. What can I help you with?”. I pride myself on efficiency and so I came up with a strategy on how I would tackle all of my students in a timely manner. I set myself a timer for 15 minutes for each student (on my phone so they couldn’t see it but so that I could keep track of the time) and I set the expectation for our meeting and how much time we had as I walked them back to my office.

In the midst of all that, one student pulled me aside as I went to grab another student and asked whether I would still meet with her that day. I told her that she is not in my queue and that she needs to check with the front desk. Turns out, she wasn’t checked in and I had no more open spots left. Luckily, the student I had just grabbed had a quick question that could be resolved in two minutes and I was able to meet with her after all. As she sat down in my office, she nearly burst into tears. She had been waiting out there since 11 am, she told me, and at this point it was 2 pm. Being told that she’s not even checked in nearly broke her down. I told her to take a deep breath and I met with her for a little longer than the allotted 15 minutes.

The next three hours were a blur of students. I met with a total of 14 students one-on-one. Afterwards, I felt exhausted but accomplished. I had done it! I felt proud of myself and as though I had done a good job advising my students despite the time limit and the volume of advisees. That good feeling came crashing down as the first wave of results from the advising satisfaction survey rolled in. I knew I’d get marked down on time because of the wait. But then I saw one student had marked me low in all 5 categories: concerns, info, accuracy, welcoming and time.

My heart felt heavy. I was sad and pissed at the same time. “You wait until the last minute to come see me, you see all of the students waiting out there, and then you have the audacity to mark ME as less than satisfactory?” was the refrain I played in my head for the next day and a half. The following morning, slumped in my office chair, head in my hands, I said to myself, “Sometimes I can’t stand this job”. As my coworker came in, I ranted to her too: “I put so much of myself into this job and this is how they repay me” and “I try my best to really help my students” and “How dare they?” and “All of this hard work and it doesn’t even count” and so on and so on.

After a few days of that, the clouds began to drift away. I had some positive and delightful student meetings. A workshop I hosted went extremely well. On top of that, the classes I was teaching had their final presentations last week which means I am done with course planning for this semester. As our office returned to its pre-registration normalcy, so did my love for this job. Not that I ever doubted that it would. Even in the midst of my negative rantings, the tiny voice in the back of my mind (you know, the rational one), told me that this was temporary. It told me that these things happen and that not all students will be happy with me all the time and that that’s okay. It told me that I will have a week like last week for years to come and that each will be a learning lesson on how to better conduct myself and how to better manage my emotions and attitude. Because, admittedly, I could have been friendlier and more welcoming during my walk-ins. I could have set the expectations in a more positive manner. So instead of saying, “We only have 15 minutes today”, I could have said, “What can I help you accomplish during our 15 minutes together today”. Not only would that have made me more approachable for the student, it also would have shifted my mindset in that moment.

All this to say, we live and we learn. Our feelings and attitudes ebb and flow like the tide, as do the opinions of our advisees. Last week I truly couldn’t stand my job but this week I love it. It’s all in the way I look at it and I’m glad I realize it now.

Do you have days or weeks when you can’t stand your job in higher education? What do you do to cope with stress?

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