Monday, July 23, 2007

I have a student named after an inanimate object

I asked her to repeat her name a couple of times, thinking it was a foreign name that just sounded, to my untutored Western ears, like an English noun. But no, she even spelled it for me, smiled widely, and said, "It's a good name, yes? I chose it myself."

To my credit, I did not laugh.

In other teaching news, I appear to have been ambushed by a pattern I trained myself into last year, but I am not convinced it is a good one for my current situation. Last year, I was trying to write my dissertation, run a reading group, run a department seminar series, edit a volume of conference papers, organise a nationwide workshop, and tutor three classes. So I made a little rule that I only did teaching prep on the (two) mornings of the days I taught. I allowed myself to use the whole morning, so up to three hours of prep per class, but not to pre-prepare the day before. And marking was restricted to weekends. That way I could ensure that teaching didn't expand to take up time that should have been devoted to more important, but less urgent matters.

This semester I pretty much only have to teach. So my plan was to be super-duper prepared and have all my classes for the week well-planned in advance. Photocopies, overheads, readings, assignments, all were to be neatly stacked and ready to go. Unfortunately, I seem incapable of doing this. I procrastinate mercilessly up until the day of each lecture, and then spend all morning getting things ready. I don't eat lunch, don't take breaks, panic about whether the photocopier will be in use all bloody morning... In short, I work myself into an unnecessary state of anxiety.

I have no idea why I do this to myself, unless it is that my routine from last year has embedded itself deep in my subconscious.

I realise asking questions of our "readership" is kind of dumb when we don't have one yet, but maybe someone will come across this post in the archive and comment on it then. So how far in advance do you prepare lectures, tutorials, assignments, etc (when you teach a course for the first time)? Have you found any good methods for making yourself plan lessons early and often?


TeachingClio said...

I've had the same problem! And, our copy machine breaks down regularly, so I understand that sense of panic that wells up in your chest. What I did last semester was I tried to stay just one week ahead. Only one week is a manageable goal, at least for me, but it also kept me from feeling the pressure. Experiment during this next week and see what works for you! Do you teach every day, or just certain days of the week? Here in the U.S. most colleges work under the M-W-F or T-Thu. schedule.

Secret Squirrel said...

I teach M-T-W, so my plan was to use Thursdays for preparation and Fridays for meetings, errands, etc. Staying one week ahead would be great. I hope I can manage it.

I need to practise, though, since there are three weeks right after the two week mid-semester break where I won't have any time (my father is visiting, then I go to a conference), and the only way I'll be able to manage those weeks is if I use the two week break to prepare at least three weeks worth of classes.

wwwmama said...

I try to limit prep to the night before just so I don't overdo it in terms of time investment. I try to make handouts reusable for the future by limiting features like numbered exercises or dates/course titles. I just put a generic title of the exercise and my name at the top.
I have a constant fear of copy machines breaking down so I try to photocopy stuff once a week for the week ahead, but inevitably I find myself doing it last minute too. And I always spend the 10-15 minutes before a class making a quick outline of topics or questions I want to ask the class. I used to have tons of lecture notes but now the short outline works best so I can be more spontaneous and interactive--less a head-in-notes teacher.