Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Getting my feet wet again with the whole teaching thing

It's hard for me to believe, but it's been nearly a year since I last taught a class. A year! So the idea of getting back into the swing of preparing courses has been a bit daunting. But I can't put these things off forever, so over the past week I've started thinking about and prepping one of my classes.

One of the bad things about being out of the classroom for a year, and from being away from my department for a year, is that all of those criticisms about my teaching, significant and niggling, that came up in my review, became magnified in my brain. It got to the point that I had completely convinced myself that I was the World's Worst College Professor and that there was nothing remotely redeeming about any of my courses. (Yes, I am a bit of a drama queen.) And, of course, that there's not a snowball's chance in hell that I will get tenure.

So I decided to start my preparations by reading over my end-of-course notes to figure out what went well and what didn't go so well the last time I taught this course. And I realized that, you know, the course didn't go so badly last time. And that students actually *liked* the course and *liked* my teaching. Huh.

Tonight, I'm reading over some of the assignments from last time around---I'm trying really hard this time to configure my course around the assignments (and thus, around the learning objectives), rather than around particular topics as I've done in the past. And, you know, those aren't so bad, either. In fact, after reading over one particularly strong assignment, I wondered if I had actually written it myself! (Answer: yes.)

Getting back into the teaching mindset is tough. I've taught this class before, but thinking about things like learning objectives and what kind of things I can assume the students know/can do has been tricky. The whole pacing thing, too---I know in the past that I've tried to jam too much into the course, and I'm working to cut that down to a manageable size this time around, but it's hard to judge things like that when you haven't been standing in front of a classroom day in and day out for a while.

But being away for a year has also given me some much-needed perspective. I'm committed to changing my textbook this year (the text I used to use was good info-wise, but tough to read, and I want to move in a new direction with the material), and I have to say that the time away from the classroom has helped me read textbooks with a more critical eye than before. I have a better idea of what I want a text to do, and I'm looking explicitly for that as I review texts. I'm less frantic about covering certain material and more focused on what skills and ways of thinking I'd like students to gain from my course(s). I have a lot of new ideas I'd like to try in the classroom, things that will require less lecture and more participation on the part of students, but that I think will ultimately make them better computer scientists.

And so, the adventure begins....again.


Alfred Thompson said...

It's been four years now since I had a class - a real class - of my own. A few workshops and some guest lectures as well as conference presentations so its not like I haven't been in front of students. But of course a reall course is a whole different thing. While doing a guest talk last week I realized how much I miss teaching but at the same time when I take the preperation I did for one talk and multiply it by a full semester, well, that seems like a lot of work. And yet I did it for years and survived. Maybe I'll get to do it again some day.

Short version. I envy you getting back into the classroom with the chance to try new things and to teach new students. Best of luck to you.

MommyProf said...

Just the fact that you make end-of-course notes tells me you must be an awesome teacher.

Kathi Fisler said...

I've had to get back into teaching this semester after a year off on sabbatical, and it was much harder than I anticipated. I found I'd forgotten how interrupt-driven I become when teaching: the steady stream of preparing assignments, writing grading rubrics, answering questions, posting explanations, helping students, etc just took far more mental coordination than I was conscious of before having the year off. My class went fine, but I had to keep reminding myself that re-integration, not teaching per se, was inspiring feelings of chaos. Don't be too hard on yourself if things feel less in control than they did the last time you taught.


Jane said...

kathi, that's great advice! I do plan on cutting myself some more slack than usual while I get back into the flow of teaching---but you (and Alfred) are right: teaching takes a _lot_ of administrative-type work! And that's probably what I'll have the toughest time readjusting to. (That and dealing with energetic young adults again!)

mommyprof, my end-of-course notes have been a lifesaver! I also tried keeping a teaching journal the last time I taught, and even though it was a bit of work (I did a "brain dump" every day after class, just basically a free-write of how I felt things went that day), I think it was completely worth it.

CogSci Librarian said...

One thing I try to do is ... after each class, I make notes on my PowerPoint & assignments about what worked & what didn't & what I should change next time around. This is manageable because I only teach 1 class, and it only meets once a week, but it definitely makes prep time next semester a lot easier.

I appreciate hearing about the mind-struggle with students' evaluations -- I do the same thing! And wish that there was more formal evaluation of teaching for adjuncts at my place. But I'm sure I'd find something to complain about there too. :-)