I survived the first semester!
I wanted to write this post before the Christmas break, but I realized I hadn’t yet survived the semester, because I had an assignment and an exam to correct (70 of each, actually) over the holidays. By the time I was done, the next semester had started…so here we are in mid-February. The course I taught during this intensive session just ended, but I have oral presentation marks to compile (I had them evaluate each other, which seemed like a great idea at the time, but turned out to be an organizational nightmare), and final papers to mark (60 of them). Still, if I stop accepting side projects, I should be able to make serious progress on my thesis very soon.
So what have I learned? What will I do differently next time round? What would I do differently if I had to do it all again?
First of all, I learned that you can’t be perfect the first time round. I taught 2 new courses this year, to a different clientele (young future kindergarten teachers, instead of adult childcare educators), at a new university. They went well, but now I know what to adjust next time, both in terms of content and because I am getting a sense of who the students are, so I have some ideas about how to adjust the emotional support/encouragement/community building I need to do with them. Next year won’t be perfect either, but it should be better.
I also learned to never schedule a final paper the week before or after a final exam – especially if I don’t have any teaching assistantship help. I don’t ever want to spend all of the Christmas break correcting again.
I learned that professors from other universities, who ignored you as a graduate student, call up and ask you to collaborate with them once you become a professor, even if you don’t have your PhD yet. I learned that without a PhD you’re not entitled to university or research council funding, so it’s OK to pay the student rate on conference registrations. It’s not OK to apply for scholarships because you would be taking a significant amount of money away from a grad student without a real salary, even if all your salary is being used to pay back the debts you acquired as a student.
I could have taken my 2 course reductions for the purpose of integration in the Fall, and spent the whole semester finishing my thesis. I was too excited about the job, and logistically it made more sense to take 1 reduction this Winter, and one next Winter (because I am still commuting each week). I have mixed feelings about this. It was a lot easier to teach the second course because I had taught the first one, and being present on campus helped me get to know my colleagues. Let’s face it, finishing the thesis might have been the smarter option, but sometimes you have other priorities.
I am not surprised that the balance between research and teaching is hard to maintain, that teaching takes up a LOT of my time. I am hoping that teaching the same classes next year will help a bit, but I think this is just part of the job.
I also wish I could teach smaller classes, because I find 60, or even 40 and 30, too big to really get to know the students and provide the best possible education – although I shouldn’t complain, I know there are people who teach classes of 100, 200, 500!
In the end, I probably wouldn’t do anything differently if I could go back and start again – I would still feel really lucky to have this job and I would still be highly critical of myself, particularly in terms of teaching. I would still procrastinate when it come to the boring parts of the job – like marking, and transcribing, and I would still agree to start or be part of too many projects, because they are so exciting…even if the advice I would give to others would be different!