'Twas the week before classes (ready or not)

'Twas the week before classes and all through the hall,
the students were scurrying to register for fall.

The syllabi were printed on many colored sheets
and the profs were already tired of needing to meet....

The textbooks lined shelves in neat little rows,
just waiting for students to open, read, and doze.

As hard as it is to believe that I've been on the job a year, I'm about to roll into my second fall semester. People keep asking me if I'm ready for classes to begin, and I'm honestly not sure how to answer. I've got my syllabi written, but not photocopied. I've read a couple of chapters in my main textbook, and I've mostly written the first two labs for the semester. I've got a pretty good mental image of what I want the first day of class to look like...but I haven't written a single lecture, not even an outline.

Last year at this time, I was in a far worse state, having just arrived on the job and gotten my teaching assignment settled. Spring semester wasn't much better because of the short break between semesters and another last minute shift in classes. So I feel like I have had all the time in the world to gear up for this semester.

In my original plan, I was going to have all my labs written before the start of classes, but I'm holding at 1.5 with little prospect of doing more lab writing before the first week. Partly, I'm being lazy and a little nervous about the course, but mostly I've been really focused on trying to be as productive at research as possible in the last few weeks of uninterrupted days. I was afraid that if I started working classes, I'd just end up spending all of August on them....and then all of September-December anyways. So I'm intentionally trying to hold off on writing lectures until the week I'm giving them. And that means that I'm scheduling this week on research (and unavoidable meetings), and I'll write my first lecture the day before I give it.

But despite my resolve, I'm second-guessing myself today. Should I spend the rest of week getting a bit ahead on the teaching stuff, so that I'm not so stressed out so early on this semester? Am I short-changing myself and my students by prepping for class last-minute? Will everything go to hell in a handbasket if I something small goes awry in the next couple of weeks? Am I really being productive enough research-wise to justify last-minute teaching prep?

Then I see things like Kate's comment that she's got the first two weeks of her classes fully prepared, and I freak out a little more. So, lovely readers, tell me. If you're teaching (a new prep) how much do you get done before the start of the semester? Does it really help once the semester is in full swing?


More like this

Having previously taught (and described) my intro class, my other course this semester has been occupy most of my mental and physical energy of late. To compound the amount of work required, I am also teaching the labs for the course. The course is taught every year at Mystery U, and from here on…
My students tell me that there are only 20 days of class left this semester. I've been too busy to count. Unfortunately, it's been too-busy-with-things-that-don't-make-a-compelling-tenure-case. But, maybe, just maybe, I can salvage this mess of a semester by learning some lessons for how now to…
Ah, classes are finally over. The last two summers I've taught a short, intense course in Applied Infectious Disease Epidemiology, condensing a semester's worth of work into a week. It's a fun course to teach, but exhausting--after teaching, I head back home or to the office to finish last-minute…
Sciencewoman says: Some of readers have been wondering about what life is like for those jobs at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs). Alice and I are indubitably unqualified to answer that question, so Kim Hannula of "All of my faults are stress related..." graciously offered to provide…

One of the courses I'm teaching a lab for is team taught, so the labs are all done and photocopied so students can purchase the packet at the bookstore. We've decided who is teaching which topics, but I do not have any lectures written yet...however, I've taught the course at least five times before. We are using a new text book, recently moved online software systems, and have significantly changed the topics covered in the class, so my goal is to have what needs to go onto the website uploaded and scheduled (particularly all the homework assignments and keys).

For the other course (a freshman seminar course on energy), I have a syllabus and all the readings done. My goal for the week is to have an outline of what I want to accomplish for the entire semester finished. This helps me keep focused, and not "ignore" the material at the end of the syllabus--if it's important enough for me to put on there, I want to make sure I actually cover it.

By GymLabRat (not verified) on 19 Aug 2008 #permalink

I have a rather 'interesting' set of classes coming up early in the semester: run as full day workshops, one faculty member per day. So for that I have to have everything, and the just in case stuff prepared before I walk in at 9am.

The rest of the stuff, well as it is all new to me, I'm doing what I can now (like reading text books, making any complicated figures for slides), but plan to do the final lecture prep a day or two before the class. I'd just forget it otherwise. Of course it helps in the UK system that all courses are team taught so we only have to prepare 33 - 50% of the lectures for each course we teach on.

I don't think last minute prep short changes the students. Its just that at the last minute, lecture prep becomes both important and urgent and therefor requires immediate attention. The rest of the time it is just important and other more urgent things are a priority.

Good luck with year 2!

I'm going into my 3rd year and have taught a new prep each semester. I've found that the time I give to preparing lectures/labs/whathaveyou will be the time it takes. If I do a lot of prep upfront it doesn't really significantly decrease my time during the semester. Classes are live animals to me and I tend to prep for the next class based on what was covered/discovered in the last class. That being said I do give a lot of effort to my syllabus and try to get all my assignments written up for a new prep before the class gets underway. In other words I try my best to organize the class as best I can but then I prep each class as I go along.

Although it can be stressful, I think keeping prep to a relatively immediate task is a good coping strategy. You don't end up putting way more time in than you should, for the most part a good-enough class is, well, good-enough (especially the first time through), and also, if you write the notes the day before giving the lecture, you don't have to spend time reviewing the material just before giving it like you do when it has been prepped for weeks.

Six years and nine new preps in, I still feel your pain, SW. It still feels like I should have things well planned well in advance, even though I almost never did. The good news is that as long as you have a good big-picture plan of where you would like the class to go, leaving preps to later is probably a good thing. As Brigindo mentioned, each class period shapes the next one, and I've found that time spent on the little-picture issues too early is often time completely wasted. And huzzah for year 2!

By Gilman the Penguin (not verified) on 19 Aug 2008 #permalink

I've always done the prep for lecture just before the class. (The night before, if it's a new prep, because I teach too much to do significant prep during the day.) If I do it too far ahead of time, I don't remember what I've done. (Once class begins, I don't have time to look at my notes except to make sure I'm writing things like equations correctly. And yes, I realize that if I used Powerpoint like a good 21st century prof, I would have the equations written already, but I prefer to use the chalkboard to work through ideas, because I talk too fast and the students space out more when I use Powerpoint.)

Preparing too much ahead of time makes it harder to change the teaching approach in the middle of the semester, too. Sometimes I discover that my great plan was a dismal failure, and that I simply need to slow down and cover a topic in a different way. If I've prepped too much ahead of time, I can't do that.

(Of course, this semester I'm re-writing labs like a maniac, because I'm organizing things for other people. But I'm getting signals that scholarship of teaching is perfectly acceptable here, so the situation is different from being a new faculty member at a school with grad students.)

I don't have teaching obligations this semester, but because we have a large class coming up next semester we're already discussing issues now. Most of that is because it's a combination of lectures and group-discussion, and we need enough tutors and be able to prepare the tutors before the students come in. Also, our student load will double, because the course is going from year 3 to year 2.

I'd like to have everything organizationally prepared with an outline of everything we want to cover. Then we can still change the outline, and usually I only prepare a lecture in the week that I have to give it. We promise the students to have slides and/or material online the evening before lectures, so that's a must but otherwise I prefer to see how the previous lecture went. It helps a lot that we're doing it with two people, and that we can bounce ideas and comments off each other.