On recent travels, one of my hosts was a person who went through my grad program a decade before I was in it, who got a job at a SLAC and has worked there throughout a respectable career. One’s working conditions, over time, mold one’s assumptions, and it was very interesting (I think for both of us) to bring our assumptions into juxtaposition.
(On pronoun usage: since I’m female, let’s say my host is male, just to provide a clear contrast between us, although, obviously, gendered experience might also affect our careers and student responses to us.)
Class size/course load: I’m at an R1, with a 3/2 load, usually with a limited number of preps. I usually have a grad course, so fewer students there, and different assignments, including more reading, but there can be considerable overlap between prep for that course and a similar topic for undergrads. This is supposed to be a great thing. Host has taught 4/4, now down to 3/3 (reassigned time), and still been a very productive scholar. Comparing myself to him used to make me feel awful. Why, with “better” course load, can I not be more productive?
Well, Host was shocked at the number of students I teach. (Visibly, physically shocked: dilated pupils, not just polite verbal expressions.) His idea of a “big course” is 20 students. Twenty students! My normal undergrad section has up to 35 (over that is prohibited by the fire marshal). What I could do with a mere 20 students! Even the intro-to-the-major course, which I’ve not taught in years because my services are needed elsewhere, is capped at 25. This spring I taught 3 independent studies, which was a terrible lot of work because I needed to meet with each student separately (I had initially imagined a sort of mini-class of 3) since their schedules were completely disjoint. But I could SEE the learning happening in a way I rarely glimpse in a class of even 30, let alone 35.
If I had max 20 students per class, I could teach a 4/4 and have fewer students than I do now. And while initial prep would be harder for multiple preps, after a few years one would have a lot of classes prepped, and so it would be easier to teach a 3/3 or 4/4 with 2-3 different preps. I think I might like that, actually, since with multiple sections of the same course, I tend to get confused about what I’ve said to which section, and find it a strain to keep two sections running more or less in synch with each other. But there are programmatic reasons why I usually teach the same prep.
So now I feel much better about my career. Someone very productive thinks I’m working under very difficult conditions! It makes me want to rise to the challenge, rather than beating myself up: a much happier frame of mind.