Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The 613 Commandments

So last week in my Humanities course we were looking at the Sermon on the Mount and the parable of prodigal son in Luke, and I was providing the class with some historical context about the nature of what it meant to keep the covenant in the First Century CE.

"There were over 600 laws that you had to observe to be in right relationship to God," I told the class.  "And in Matthew 5-7, Jesus essentially redefines what it means to keep the covenant.   I mean  there were laws for everything: how to worship, how to eat, what to wear and not wear."

A hand goes up.  "Yes?"

"Why were there so many laws?"

And suddenly all I could think of was the first syllabus I drew up when I began teaching.  No late policy, nothing on attendance, length of papers, font size...  Now my syllabus has 613 little rules (okay, that may be hyperbole).  And nearly every one arose in response to an earlier lack of clarity about something or a former student who ingeniously ferreted out a loophole in a past syllabus.

And those are just my rules.  I haven't mentioned the required institutional syllabus statement, the mandatory class credit-hour statement, the assessment stuff, a plagiarism policy, FERPA...   My syllabus is beginning to rival the Deuteronomic Code.

So my student's question was on the money..  Why are there so many laws in education and not more gospel?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Cutting your losses

I have a class this semester that--despite every gimmick I throw at them--will not engage.  So a few weeks ago I gave up trying.  This is not what a professor who has committed himself to active learning pedagogy, growth mindset and student-centered approaches is supposed to do.  He is expected to find a way to get through to these students.  He is supposed to keep trying, to break through.

But I looked at the needs of the students in my other class and did a quick calculation.  I could keep spending all my time and energy trying to come up with innovative ways to get through to a roomful of students doing the  mannequin challenge, or I could put more effort into the other courses. So I just went back to lecturing in my problematic course.

They won.  They didn't want to engage and I gave in.

I feel bad about it, too.  It's an odd feeling going into class each day knowing you are doing it wrong.  You can actually feel it each time one of them looks at the clock in boredom, or stares blankly into space.  And you yourself feel guilty, a little ashamed.  You commit yourself to getting it right next time, but right now it is what it is.  Sometimes you have to cut your losses.

Yesterday as I stood in the hallway doing the evaluation shuffle, I wondered if they were ripping me as much as I was.  But who knows?   Maybe they don't even see the difference.  If so, that's the real tragedy.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

On the clock

I have no idea how many hours I work each week.  And according to a recent blog post in the Times Higher Educational Supplement, most academics don't.  Some cite a statistic as high as 80 hours a week, which I think is nonsense.  Others suggest somewhere between 40 and 50, which strikes me about right.

Here's what I know.  I'm up every morning around 4:00 am and do an hour and a half of grading, eat breakfast and get into the office on most days by 7:30 am.   More grading or prepping for class and then teaching four different courses 10 times throughout the week, plus the mandatory five office hours a week. I serve on two committees (Core Oversight and P & T) and two task forces. Several times a week, too, there is a late afternoon meeting.  So I end up heading home after 5:00 on those days.  So there's a good 9-10 hours a day when I am working either at home or on campus, plus another four to six each weekend.  Let's say 47-55 hours a week.  According to a recent Gallup Poll the average work week for Americans is 47 hours.  So I suppose I'm right at the average for an American with a job. 

In the end, though, teaching just isn't the kind of work you measure in hours.  Thanks to texts and tweets, you're never fully off the job.  My students email me 24/7 to ask things and they expect quick responses.  I don't always comply, especially if it's a question like Hey, is something due tomorrow? or What are we supposed to read for Wednesday?  That syllabus I labored on last summer was supposed to eliminate such questions, but it rarely does.

I also spend a great deal of time mulling things over: why didn't that work?  How am I going to engage a room full of 19-year olds?  Are they really getting it?  As a result the definition of 'on the clock' in teaching seems fairly elastic.  We would all be rich if we were paid with billable hours.


One summer, long ago, during the Ford administration and the waning days of my parents' unhappy marriage, I laid each afternoon upon a...