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What my semester looks like so far (a tracking for Writing Group post)

2 October, 2011

This was initially a response for the Writing Group, but it got long.

Mostly, this is just me taking stock of what I need to do. Feel free to file under tl;dr.

So, here’s where I need to get really realistic. I HAVE to re-write this paper, period. And there is a deadline. And it will be met.

BUT — This is what my semester looks like:

(please note –the lack of course prep is mostly down to being out of it for the entire three weeks set aside for planning courses, and then being ill since then. Not doing that again — from now on, I set up the Blackboard classes for the courses, and the course schedules, BEFORE any other things at the end of term, when all the ideas are fresh)

Only teaching three courses, but it’s three preps:

  • One prep is the survey, but it is a new book, and I promised myself I’d try to follow the book, because the approaches to World History are not how I want to teach it. That’s been fairly useful, but if I fall behind in the reading, I find myself adding lectures I think they need, not realizing that the material is covered elsewhere. Also, I’m just adding more details on Greece and Rome. On top of that, there is a lot of marking — three short essays — one of which I totally forgot to assign, and have to give them late, bi-weekly discussion boards, a midterm, and a final, plus bi-weekly class discussion grades, that rely on my remembering to note the discussion topics and how they fit the Gen Ed outcomes. Fortunately, only 26 students.
  • Area History Course in my weakest field. The students asked if I could rearrange the course to focus on one country at a time. That part was fairly easy. But they are all trying to come up with topics for papers, as I tried to implement a new department policy in advance of it taking effect. So keeping on top of that has been interesting. And frankly, I’ve been crap on the lectures so far, because I am just not having time to prep and make sure that my lectures from last time are not now just mimicking the new edition of the book. Students are bringing the book to class so we can discuss primary sources, but they are not retaining information at an upper-division level. I have to get more on top of it, so that I can get more on top of them.
  • the How to be a historian class. Lower-division, but I’m supposed to be combining ideas of history and historiography with a number of small methodology assignments, culminating in a 3000-word source-driven paper at the end. And I am doing this on a fundamental, “this is how you take notes”, “this is how you write a summary”, level using They Say, I say. And I totally fucked up the pacing at the beginning, in part because I wanted them to really think about things, in part because SLAC’s students are not always good at jumping in with references to what they’ve read, even if the assignment was very short. So I have to get a course with a LOT of work under control. One of the things I promised was to start keeping my writing journal online so they could see me going through the same stresses over a paper as they are having. But in the meantime, I’m working very hard on helping them narrow down paper topics — they have to find primary sources and use them, and this has been a problem. I almost want to teach the course again next year, just so I can rearrange it to looking at primary source collections and online resources before we do any real talking about history. Anyway, it’s another packed class — 16 in the seminar, and they are all great people. But their interests are all over the place, and it’s been hard helping them narrow down topics from Late Antique/Early Medieval heresy to evangelicalism in the Civil War armies.

Did I mention I don’t even have everything up on Blackboard for these classes yet? And currently, I have outstanding grading that looks like this:

  • Online discussion (1)
  • 4 quizzes (just to make sure Blackboard entered the grades and the people who didn’t take them get zeros)
  • one class quiz
  • Course blog and comments
  • Class discussion grades for the last couple of weeks

Also, there is the professional organization I’m president of, which is doing a major project. I get a course release for this, and need to give it that time. It doesn’t help that I’ve become a bit disheartened with it, in part because a couple of people involved are just plain trolls, and in part because there are simply issues of principle on which I can make no difference. They aren’t big things, but for me, they represent core values that I hold dear. Many of the issues could be resolved by re-framing: rather than tell me X is really Y, e.g., when differentiating X from Y is really important to me, we could simply say that X and Y are subject to the same rules, even though they are different. I’m fine with changing rules to solve problems, especially when the results streamline procedures and have an economic advantage. But I’m not so good with re-defining things to make them fit into existing structures.

Campus service is somewhat limited this semester — only department chair, for which I am doing all the work but am temporarily out of title. Don’t ask. It’s related to the HPOS. Still, in the next three weeks I have to:

  • Meet with accreditation team for the Ed program, since I’m the liaison for social sciences (this means reading all the reports)
  • make sure that a colleague gets in all the curriculum changes she needs to make by Oct 15, having first reviewed them
  • finish entering all the assessment information from last year, and take care of curriculum mapping (i.e., make sure each course taught in the department has demonstrated which outcomes it satisfies and has documented how it satisfies them, and that those things are entered — by me — into our assessment tracking software). This is likely to increase the HPOS. It also requires that I sit down and revise some of the outcomes. This has to be done this semester, because SACS is coming.

Otherwise, service is:

  • Advise a campus club, and show up to their meetings.
  • Show up to several sports events, so that students see me there and know I showed up (it’s kind of an expectation of the job, and it does make a huge difference in how the students relate to faculty here)
  • Work on a major project I’ve been assigned that I can’t talk about, but may take up 2-3 hours a week until we get all the details settled. Not much choice here — it’s a university service thing, and this year was in some ways a good one for me to do it, because I have a partner who is helping a lot.
  • Plus the usual letter-writing, advising, and (once I’ve caught up) normal routine of prep and grading.

I also have to fit in the weekly therapist appt., several doctors’ appointments, more tests, and my just-for-me music lessons and practice. And the gym. And sleep.

It’s honestly no more than a lot of you all are doing. It’s just that the being sick means playing catch-up while trying to keep up. After all, this is pretty much what every semester looks like for me, except that I normally have a fourth class in the fall, and I’m not sick.

Speaking of which, beginning last Monday, I have had more than 7 hours sleep a night. Many of the health issues are markedly better.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. 2 October, 2011 8:24 pm

    Which world book did you switch to? I’m an incorrigible textbook switcher in world history, so I’ve tried a LOT of what’s out there over the last decade. At the moment what I really want is a book that *doesn’t* have lots of shortcuts for students — study terms in bold, glossaries written by googling assistant editors, exciting but irrelevant personages highlighted — but it’s hard to find a grown-up book that covers the ground….

    • 2 October, 2011 8:29 pm

      I’m using Strayer. I think that there is a lot to hate about it, if I think like a historian. But if I try to think like a World Historian (which means thinking like an anthropologist/sociologist/political scientist with no real concern about detail), it’s rather good. I have managed to make my peace with it by asking the students to consider why the primary sources are applicable to the chapter, but might not be applicable when studying the individual cultures. Because really… who puts Tacitus, Jomo Kenyatta, and Las Casas together in order to talk about early agricultural communities?

      So in a backhanded way, it is a great book for discussing source use and criticism, and the lumping along themes is really good, I think.

  2. 2 October, 2011 11:20 pm

    I actually teach the “how to be a historian” class every three to four semesters (though we split methodology and historiography into two different classes), so if you want to toss ideas back and forth, drop me a line. I won’t say I’ve got it 100% nailed yet, but this is my sixth go at it, and I think I’m pretty darned close.

  3. Susan permalink
    3 October, 2011 5:35 am

    Sleep defintely helps almost everything.
    And good luck catching up. When you’re sick, you get behind. That’s all there is to it.
    Good luck.
    I’m teaching “The Historian’s Craft”, which is sort of “how to be a historian”, but is even more “What do you need to know before you take the capstone course”? At times I like it, but it also drives me crazy.

  4. 4 October, 2011 12:57 pm

    My sympathies; if it helps I just got landed with another paper deadline by George Vogeler, at exactly the same time as the one we both have already (and indeed he does). But I can’t imagine that does help, really, so instead some undergraduate wisdom from one of the cleverest people I ever knew:

    Sleep. It solves most things. Well. Some things. Like, lack of sleep.

    I am trying to remember this and act on it myself. It is much more important than she made it sound.

    • 5 October, 2011 3:18 am

      One of our grandes dames? And also, you want pretty much complete and beautiful by 1 December, yes? Which means I need it to reviewers by Nov 15 at the latest? And I sent you an email about it, because I need to make a directional decision… 🙂 yes, I will be buying you beer…

      • 5 October, 2011 10:46 pm

        Grande dame, no in fact, someone from entirely elsewhere and now your side of the Pond. As to the rest, yes, I have your mail (and am sorry about the timescale even now, not least as I have to meet it too) and will answer shortly, sorry, term just getting going here and not all my materials are ready… By the end of this we are both going to owe each other so much beer that I think it won’t signify, you know.

  5. 6 October, 2011 6:26 pm

    It does not want to let me reply … But yes, you’re right, Jon. But at least we can enjoy the mutually-owed-but-not-counted beers together. Speaking of which, I believe I owe that nice Professor Thacker a glass of wine.

    • 6 October, 2011 7:05 pm

      (The depth of the threading can be set in Settings, Discussion, in the Dashboard, but you’ve seen how thin and silly it can get if left uncontrolled.)

      I don’t think anyone’s had the wisdom to give the good Dr Thacker a chair, but I am pretty sure that he won’t take much persuading into that, as indeed will I not with the beers, when opportunity permits (all reading lists now compiled, next up is the lectures…). Bon courage meanwhile!

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