For the past month, both Z and Clarissa (here and here, for example)have been writing a lot on the very teaching, writing, research and service as part of ones job as a university professor. I will not address specifically what they say, because at this point it would be too long. Furthermore, if you haven't read these amazing bloggers, it is a good opportunity for you to discover them. I agree with some of what they say, and I do not with other parts. The reason for this, I believe, is that not every job is the same. I am not just talking about working conditions, but also different institutional cultures and what different colleges/universities look for in a professor. Therefore, some people are better fit for certain places than others.
As a result, I will just spill out some thoughts that I have after reading them. Please, read each point as if the sentence started "FOR ME, . . . " I am not trying to be prescriptive, but to articulate why I am at my job, what I like it, what I believe I am good at, what are my weaknesses, etc.
a) For me, research is fun and enjoyable. I'm a curious person by nature. Writing, however, is really hard. I write most of my essays in Spanish, and it still is hard. I literally have a problem with words. I know my ideas are (usually) original, but it is a struggle to me to articulate them in a coherent and well-written piece. My prose is not exactly a pleasure to read. Let's just say that Jonathan should be happy that my field is not his, so he will not have to read one of my manuscripts.
b) On the other hand, I'm a great oral story-teller. I've been told that several times. That is one of my assets as a professor. I am funny, and I can tell a story. I know how to engage my students. Related to that, I know how to challenge them in a positive way, so that they try to respond to it and not shut down. I also love research as a way of bringing new ideas and elements to the classroom, not just for my own scholarship. Here, I am not referring to pedagogy (although I do read about that also), but to articles and books regarding things I am teaching. I might not assign them (the writing may be too sophisticated for my students), but I will find a way to introduce some of the ideas to the students, and let them discuss them.
c) I am a great teacher, and that is one of the pleasures of my job. I would feel something is missing if I don't get to communicate my knowledge with my students. In that way, I feel that I am contributing something to society. Now, I am not naive. Of course I would prefer to teach all upper level courses and not language classes. However, I do like to teach language courses (except Beginning Spanish). I don't think it's beyond my pay scale to do it, and my own background allows me to go beyond what is usually the "touristic" perspective of most Foreign Language textbooks.
d) Would I like to teach in a department that had a PhD in Spanish? Absolutely. But I also like teaching undergraduates, since I get to develop their critical thinking skills and I can manage to make them see the world in a different light. As undergraduates is when one, as a professor, has the opportunity to develop a student's interest in the same thing one is passionate about.
e) Regarding service...OK, I believe in it in abstract. I think it is the opportunity that faculty members have to influence what's going on in an institution. I also know that it doesn't work this way many times. It can be a huge time sucker, and you can get stuck in a meaningless committee. So I will serve my time, but I won't be hypocritical about it and say that I like it. I don't.
f) Above all, I think we must not forget about having pleasure. If you are constantly miserable at a job, maybe you ended up in the wrong place or you chose the wrong profession. And this applies to Academia and to many other fields. If you are miserable in front of a classroom, you will communicate that misery to your students, and that's not fair for them (yes, some students can manage to make your life miserable for a period of time, but overall I believe that somebody who is good in front of a classroom will receive positive feedback from students).
g)I love my job in many ways, and I complain about it sometimes, on occasion. But it is a job. A job that gives me pleasure. It defines a lot of who I am, but it is not 99% of my identity. Whether I am a true scholar or not, I really don't care. I believe I am, although I probably would not make tenure in a R1 institution. Why? Because I can't bring myself to be so devoted to my scholarship, so I probably would never have the book on time. That is why I am a better fit in my institution, where research is required but teaching is also paramount. I am an inquisitive mind, I love learning, and I like equally communicating my knowledge. To my peers and to my students.
These are my random thoughts regarding teaching, writing, research and service as a professor. They are highly subjective, as they are informed by my own background, my personality, my personal history. I don't pretend that they apply to everybody, but they certainly work for me.