Sunday, January 23, 2005

Stressing about teaching

One of my classes this term has not been going well. It's not been a complete disaster or anything bad like that---in fact, I suspect that if you asked the students, they would say that everything is fine. But, in my mind, the class is a failure because it's not going at all like I expected it to. I had high expectations and they are not being met, and it's not at all because of the students---it's all been stuff I'm doing (actually, it would be more accurate to say stuff I'm not doing).

I take my teaching very seriously. Most of the time, I think I'm pretty darn good at it. But, because I take it so seriously, when things go wrong---when things don't go perfectly---I sometimes tend to panic. I start having all these wild thoughts about how I'm the worst teacher ever, how I'm cheating my students out of the stellar education they deserve, etc. Yeah, pretty ridiculous. I realize that. But it doesn't stop me from automatically thinking it.

Last week was not the most stellar week for me, teaching-wise. By Friday, I was really disappointed in how the class had gone that week, and it actually affected my mood in the classroom. I probably had my worst lecture ever on Friday. I left class disgusted with myself.

What threw me off was pretty silly---I had planned for the students to do a particular project, only to find out last week that the tool I was going to have them use did not work correctly. No problem, I thought---I'll just come up with another project. But, because I was so in love with the old project idea, I kept trying to come up with something equally compelling, and when I couldn't come up with something right away, I panicked. And this panic persisted every time I thought about the class. Panic is not very conducive to productivity. So I still haven't assigned anything, and I've finally resigned myself to the fact that whatever I do assign is not going to be anything like what I envisioned at the start of the class.

One of the things that I know I should do, that I always say that I'm going to do and then don't, is do a better job of mapping out my assignments for a course ahead of time. For some reason, I find this very hard to do. Part of it is because I do like to "read" the temperament of the class before I assign things (are they mostly hands-on, or do they like the theoretical stuff?), but most of it is because for some reason, I don't like to make that sort of commitment before the class actually starts. I'm scared that I'll come up with boring assignments and then be stuck with them. Better to take my chances and come up with something cool on the fly. This strategy, surprise surprise, rarely works. But this is the first time that it's really come back to bite me in the butt.

So today, I took a step back and re-evaluated the course. And you know what, it's not as bad as I thought. I actually sat down, planned out mini-objectives for the rest of the course topics, and came up with a few ideas for assignments for each topic. (Of course, I still don't have any ideas for the assignment for the current topic. I'm still a bit panicked when I think about it. But I'll come up with something tonight....I have to.) Tomorrow, I will actually sit down and write the rest of the assignments. And if they suck, the world will not end, and my students won't think I'm the worst teacher ever. I think.

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