Monday, June 11, 2012

This summer's teaching

I didn't teach last summer, and I had forgotten how fun it could be.

On the one hand, it's a crazy-fast pace: we are traveling at twice the rate of the regular semester, which means you have to be fairly organized to remember to be on top of things like doing necessary lab-prep work, or having tests ready in time, that kind of thing.

I am in the classroom 18 hours a week, if the lab classes go the full four hours budgeted for them. (They do not always do so). That's more than during the regular semester most semesters, and I'm teaching a smaller number of courses.

However, we don't have classes on Friday...they instituted some kind of budget-saving measure so offices are not open Fridays. (The amount of time total they are open over the course of the week is about the same; the expectation is they open a couple hours earlier and close a couple hours later M-Th). I assume it's to save electricity because I've noticed when I come in to work on Fridays that it's a lot hotter in the building - they turn the airconditioning to a higher temperature when we're not having classes.

It is kind of nice having Fridays off. I can come in and catch up on grading or prepwork, or do research work, and not worry about someone NEEDING me for something. Or, I don't have to plan to head off to class and teach. (Teaching takes more energy than you'd think. I'm usually pretty tired after class). And yet, I still have Saturday for errands or just living my own life.

I don't think the four-day-a-week schedule could work in the regular semester but it's really nice for summer.

I also like my summer students. I still shake my head over the fact that one of my Physics profs (I took Physics in the summer at a local community college - it transferred to my university, it was cheap for me to do, and it meant I didn't wind up taking Physics and Organic Chem together, something numerous people had warned me off of) claimed that he "knew" why people were taking the class in the summer - that it was because they could not pass in the regular semester and thought summer would be easier.

(And from that, I got a big lesson in What Not To Do When Teaching A Class: never, ever assume a class is stupid or slackerish, and never tell them you think they are even if you kind of think they are. It's just really ugly and offputting, and it makes the diligent students angry).

Because, I find my summer students tend to be more motivated. By and large, they are taking summer classes because they want to graduate early - or because they can make more room in their semester schedule for things like internships or higher-level specialized classes. Or they're incoming freshmen who want to get a head start on their distribution classes.

Oh, once in a while I have someone who can't hack it, or is a blow-off, or acts like a jerk to the other students, but mostly the students I get in the summer are good students and nice people and I really enjoy having them. (The money is nice too. Secondary, but nice to have. I could survive without a summer paycheck but having one means I have more flexibility and don't have to budget so tightly during the year).

This semester I have one upper-division and one lower-division (nonmajors) class. The upper division class is small - 8 people - but they let it run because two people need it to graduate this summer. (Normally, classes with enrollments below 10 are cancelled). I know it's not economically feasible to run such small classes, but I really love teaching them: you can give more attention to each student, you can get to know who they are better. And I feel more comfortable and relaxed and able to joke around with them and go off on tangents if someone asks an interesting question or stuff. Also, in a small class, it's really hard for a student to "hide" and not pull their weight in lab or discussion. And I also think there is some positive energy that goes on: someone has to be a real jerk to be able to fight off the "positive peer pressure" of a group fo committed students in the class, and continue to be apathetic and rude.

The lower-division class I have is about 20, and it's harder to get a handle on them. A lot of them are absolutely new freshmen, and they're scared to death. I try to be reassuring - if someone is a diligent student and they give a darn about learning and they're working, I'm not going to go after them for some tiny little infraction (A guy brought coffee to class and asked me if it was okay for him to have it. I said sure, as long as he didn't leave a mess). With the nonmajors class I do have to be a little careful; I find more than any other class I teach this is the place where I get the 'too cool for school' people who don't want to work and don't want to discuss and don't care about the material, and it's hard to keep them from checking out. (And sometimes I wonder: is it really my JOB to knock myself out to keep them from checking out, or is it more my job to teach for the people who do care?) So far, this crew looks pretty much okay but I will have to go through a full lab period with them to see for sure. (You learn more about how a person is when they are working in lab....some people who are not so hot in the lecture part of class are really good with the lab stuff, and some people who seem pretty smart in lecture turn out to be really apathetic about actually doing stuff in lab.)

But so far, so good.

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