I have a terrible confession to make: I’ve been giving away copies of a book that I had never read. For the past two summers, we’ve surveyed ESN members about their past year, and members who had made a recent career transition – earned a degree, started a new job, received tenure – have been offered the free book of their selection. I included among our offerings a book, James Lang’s Life on the Tenure Track: Lessons from the First Year, based on the high recommendations of others, and I promptly (18 months ago) ordered my own copy. I’ve even been known to carry extra copies in my bag to give away spontaneously, yet it’s been sitting on my own “to read” shelf for well over a year.
But my shame has been lifted. This afternoon, I finished reading the final chapter. Even better: I’m glad that I’ve been giving it out.
Lang’s book is not meant to replace the myriad other advice books that are available to young and aspiring faculty. While Lang has studied the art and science of teaching, his book is primarily a memoir of his first year as an assistant professor of English at Assumption College, a Catholic liberal arts college in Worcester, Mass. The book takes the reader through the entire first year, with each month matched up with a dominant theme of academic life from that time period: teaching, grading, writing, and so on. While Lang includes general advice to new professor, he mostly focuses on his own experiences of learning how to teach a full schedule while trying to fulfill service and writing commitments, balancing his work with the needs of his young family, navigating relationships with faculty colleagues, and learning his way around a small college in an unfamiliar city.
ESN members, in particular, may benefit from Lang’s perspective. Lang is Catholic and chose Assumption, in part, because of its Catholic identity. Though his faith remains mostly in the background (with one exception late in the book, in which he compares his experience with those of less religious faculty and students), his faith shapes his values and choices in ways that I think will be familiar to many ESN members. Towards the end of the book, as he’s reflecting on his first year, Lang considers how his work has affected and will continue to affect his wife and children, as well as their attempts to find community in their neighborhood and church. Through the year, Lang also suffers from a chronic disease (Crohn’s) that leads him to consider the inherent limitations of being human. Faculty at schools that place more emphasis on research may find the book less helpful than faculty at liberal arts or teaching-oriented institutions, but the book is a light read that you will likely enjoy anyway.
But enough of what I think. Have you read Life on the Tenure Track? What did you think? And what other books would you recommend for young faculty?
Bonus recommendation: You might also want to check out Lang’s other book for young faculty, On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching. Prior to coming to Assumption, Lang worked at the Searle Center for Teaching Excellence, so this book draws on his academic expertise as well as his personal experiences. But take my recommendation with a grain of salt, since I haven’t read it yet. 🙂