Teaching Fashion: Reflections at the end of a first year of teaching full-time

It is nearing the end of the semester and wow are things busy. This is my first year teaching full-time (I was an adjunct last year) and having committees, advisees and and an extra class or two really add to the workload to say the least. I have really had to re-evaluate how I structure assignments, how I grade, article selection, reading requirements etc. Not because what I did before was out of line but purely for survival – my own because writing new lectures, working with new textbooks, writing new assignment guides, new grading rubrics, etc really takes a lot of time. And as we all know, there are only so many hours in the day. And I have a family – husband and 4 kids to be exact. After years of graduate school they aren’t really all that amenable to my working in the evening and week-ends so efficiency is key on my part. I am fast and I am thorough but I had to learn to let go a little. So in this abbreviated post (end of the semester and all), I will share (or at least am starting to learn) in order to survive the semesters as they come.

1. As noted in a previous posting, in the syllabus of a class – late policies, due dates, weekly readings, etc. The more clarity I have provided, the fewer questions and fewer complaints I receive from students. Of course they haven’t gone away completely (will they ever?) but when anyone knows what is expected, they have less to ask. I always appreciated knowing as much at the start of the semester as possible. I won’t name names but there were a few professors over the years that drove me insane with randomly added assignments and due dates.

2. Write your assignment guides, grading rubrics, etc. of them. This really saves in having to edit the documents the following year. Also, if you save or import or migrate course documents in blackboard (or what online tool your school uses), you don’t have to delete, edit and re-post.

3. Do not be afraid of using . I shouldn’t really say “afraid” because I wasn’t fearful of using them it’s just my attitude was “scantrons don’t allow the students to really explain their ideas, I feel they should be able to express their full understanding of the material in their own words not just fill in a bubble…”. Well, when it was taking 30 – 40 minutes to grade a single exam, I decided I had to change something so I did add some multiple choice and matching last year and last semester but still hand graded. Then this semester I moved those questions that could be answered on a scantron to a scantron. Yes, it took time to alter the test to scantron format but it saved me LOADS of time. Another bonus – students received their test results and therefore I received fewer inquiries as to when tests would be returned. A win-win.

4. Provide  to the students. I never really thought about it before attending a workshop before fall semester. I figured I gave students really clear assignments, based my grading on that very specifically and why would I give them the actual grading rubric ahead of time? Wasn’t that like giving them an unfair advantage – giving hints that you only need to work hard on whatever particular section? But no. That hasn’t happened. By providing the grading rubric ahead of time I feel the students really understand that I “mean business” when I write the assignment guides. That I really do mean you have to answer/address every point of the guide. And once again, how can they argue if they know they will loose points and how many points ahead of time and they still choose to not do a part of the assignment? This really gets back to clarity too.

5. . Most of my syllabi state the readings for each week AND that additional reading may be added but if they will be added, they will be posted at least one week ahead of time. If I find a great article 6 days before I want it read, it doesn’t get added.

6. Be willing to . Sometime you may have to alter your plan or your schedule. Maybe a topic takes longer than anticipated, maybe students have more to say about a topic, maybe you DO come across some great resource at the last minute and you decide to take class-time for them to read or see it. If the main reason behind it is for the benefit of the students, then let it go.

7. Keep a on your computer of what you did in each class. I didn’t do this my first semester last year as an adjunct. I kept written notes on my syllabus but did not keep it in my computer. Well, this fall when teaching the same class again do you think I could find those notes? Of course not. But I did have them for spring semester and they have helped immensely. I have a much more clear picture of how much I can cover in a given lecture, what areas seem problematic for students, I note what I want to do differently next year and I can look ahead and know what to have prepped for upcoming class sessions.

8. . I am a team player. I really am. I am a do-er. Give me a job and I will do it. And I will do it to the best of my ability and often I will search out ways to do it better. But that also has led me to say yes to probably more than I should. This seems to be a problem for many first year instructors. Whether you are on a contract and want to prove indispensable to the department so they will renew your contract or you are working towards tenure and know how much committee work counts, I have heard many instructors early in their careers become overwhelmed with commitments that come with the job but fall outside the classroom. But as in any realm, you don’t have to say yes to everything.

9. That said, also know there will be times you won’t be given a choice to do something or not do something. That’s just I guess.

10. Realize that there are going to be times you aren’t stellar in your lecture, that some students just won’t pass the class no matter how hard you try to get them interested and get them to do the work, that somedays you may feel like you are having no effect whatsoever on their learning, the list goes on and one. But as my mom (wise woman that she is) always says – this too shall pass. The end of the semester shall come, you will survive and there is to change, tweak, improve.

Must move on – the end of the semester calls.

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