writing and teaching


Time is on my mind lately; the semester is winding down and my students are all busy submitting final papers and finish exams. I have about 5 days of work time when I can really get things done: no meetings, no classes to teach, just me and my desk and all my plans for next semester.

I have, in the past, sort of squandered such opportunities. I don’t know why such lethargy comes over me, but when I don’t have the instant worry of getting something done on time, I tend to do it much more slowly. I don’t love this quality in myself; in fact, I feel like one of the main resolutions I’d love to stick to in 2018 is the idea of working ahead when I have a chunk of time, so I don’t get quite so stressed when I don’t have a chunk of time to spare.

That being said, I am going to give myself some guidelines, here on the blog, for how I will spend this time. It’s not “free” time, after all, because I am expected to add value to my school and to make next semester less stressful for myself. So here are my goals – hopefully specific and manageable – for the next week.

  • I want to develop the materials for my most work-intensive class next semester; this means syllabus, course management site, assignment sheets, and lecture powerpoints. I also want to develop a plan for my other 3 classes, but those don’t need to be as nailed-down from the beginning since I’ve taught them before.
  • I want to clear my desk and file my paperwork from this semester, since I’ve gotten massively behind on my David Allen-style filing system.
  • I want to make a rough calendar of the different things that must be done when I return from the holidays, so that rather than being discombobulated by the long absence, I am prepared for starting quickly and decisively.

What about you? You may have crazy busy stuff to do right up until any celebrating you’ll be doing at the end of this year, but if not, what will you do with whatever time you have?

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I get a little nervous every time I have to plan a new class, but after I get through the nerves – will I be good at teaching this? will I come up with useful activities? How will I handle all the grading? – I then find myself getting really excited. Why? Because so much of what a teaching experience is involves planning, which you all know I love.

Right now, I’m planning a class on Magical Realism Literature. The hope is that while the students are reading these strange, surreal stories that I’ve picked out for them, they will learn a few other things along the way: tactics for successful discussion in classes, practical tips for writing successful essays, methods for reading deeply and pulling out the most important aspects of a text, and a general ability to think critically rather than just consuming media without comment.

In doing this, I have to plan so many things. I currently have a spreadsheet where I’m listing potential activities, potential readings, and potential assignments. I also throw in different discussion structures, since many first-year students at the college where I teach don’t love big group discussions, and since I know a few magical realist writers, I’m toying with the idea of bringing one to campus to speak.

I plan in a variety of ways; first I free-associate all the different authors and activities and assignments I might want to use, then I fit them into the “grid” of the semester; what would be good as an opening reading? What would work better as a long-middle-of-the-semester slog? What would reenergize students for the end of the semester? All of these considerations help me make sure that my schedule is balanced and that I also won’t get bored or run-down.

What are the things you have to plan that bring you joy in the planning? This is just one of mine, and it really makes me happy to see a course “structure” emerge out of what is just my tangled, messy love of magical realism and helping people write.

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