Well, first you need a good household staff.
OK, now that we’ve got the hilarity out of the way, how really can mothers take on teaching, research and writing, and children—three incredibly labor-intensive jobs—at the same time?
Let’s start with teaching. Here are a few things I picked up along the way, largely by the seat of my pants as I jumped into a job when my first child (of three) was just shy of three months old. Nothing I learned was intentional, but some of it has stood me in good stead.
The key concept for enabling mothers to survive in the academy is efficiency. And here are some things that helped me to achieve it:
Teach big courses with a wide scope. That sounds counterintuitive, I know. Most people think it takes less energy for junior scholars—and most people with small children will be junior scholars—to teach smaller classes in their specialty. The problem with such specific classes is that they tend to be under enrolled, which means you will constantly have to come up with new courses to keep your numbers up. Repeatedly writing courses from scratch is a huge time-sink.
The initial time investment for writing a survey course is undoubtedly large, but it’s a one-time thing. From there, if you need to, you can pivot that material into a number of other classes. (My History of the American West stands alone, but has also spawned Race, Riots, and Rodeos, as well as The Plains Indians.) But the chances are good you won’t need to. Surveys tend to fill every semester. So do other sweeping courses that cover large periods, major events, important themes, and so on. Yearly tweaking will be enough to keep the courses up-to-date and interesting until you have the time to invest in creating new ones.
Another way to teach efficiently is to use grading rubrics. Instead of writing line-by-line comments on essays and exams—which takes forever—develop your own set of categories that you will evaluate. I grade essays with six categories: thesis, argument, style, evidence, grammar, errors, and overall. Under those categories, I write anything from a line to a paragraph about what worked and what didn’t.
You could, of course, break down your rubrics even further.
This takes about a third as long as my old style of line-by-line comments, and students love it. I started it not to save time, but because I read an education study showing that students were overwhelmed by unorganized comments and learned very little from them. So I gritted my teeth and tried a rubric. The first time I did it, grading took so much less time than usual I felt like I was cheating, but that year I got the best student reviews I’d ever gotten for my essay comments. In this case, it appears that less really is more.
I did both of these things for reasons that had nothing to do with mothering, but they ended up being very helpful ways to organize my teaching time most efficiently. They also were great for my own research, but that will be a different post.
*I’m writing another post on the theoretical argument behind this series of posts. Until then, once again, I am defining “mothers” as a different mindset, not as a biological identification.