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.

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4 thoughts on “Surprising encouragement

  1. That is an encouragement — good to recognize just how much you are doing rather than feeling bad about what you perceive you are not doing.

  2. It’s really true that class size makes a huge difference in our experiences — both as teachers and as students.

    I’m interested in how this is going to work out for me this coming year. In the fall during my first year, I had about 36 students total — in 3 classes. Then, in the spring, I taught 4 classes and had about 52 (by the time several dropped). This coming fall, I’m teaching two lecture classes (humanities) which will have 90+ students per class, and then will also have senior seminar (14 students) and the Stratford class (so far 5). 52 students sounds like a cake-walk compared to the 201 students I anticipate teaching this coming fall. 201. Geez. What was I complaining about in the spring? In the meantime, I’m trying to get some scholarship done this summer without having a heart attack over the kids, housing, and work-related stuff. Deep breaths!!

    I think that most of us do as much as we can with the experiences we have. No beating up of self allowed!

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