On Being Human: Teaching Expectations


I’m about to embark on my 20th year of teaching. I cannot believe it. It seems like just a few years ago, I was a graduate student. But, it’s been more than a few years. I love teaching. One consistent thing that I’ve witnessed though, is that I cannot get sick or have a family emergency. A small percentage of my students, must think that I live under my desk and have a super immune system, but alas occasionally I do fall ill. When I do get sick, it’s a whopper of an illness. Oh, like whooping cough and coughing so hard that I pass out or a terrible flu strain for almost three weeks.

I have had an accident, family emergency, and illness affect my teaching life three times in the last twenty years. Each time this meant that I returned grading a bit later than usual. It also impacted my office hours or availability. I did not think that it was a big deal, as I was honest and clear with the students. However, each time it was clear that a group of students did not find my personal situation relevant and were quite brutal on the official student evaluations, that one rate your instructor who you love/hate site, and in office hours/email communication.

I know this might sound like a whiny post, and perhaps it is. I would like some breathing room, so that when I get really ill every seven years I can get back in the classroom and not have a barrage of negative feedback about how my illness impacted their ability to come see me or better understand the assignment that is explained thoughtfully in the syllabus. Professors are people too, and sometimes we get sick or are family members get sick. There, I feel better.

The image is from interwebs–Yik Yak. I’ve never used my iClicker as anything except its intended use. My use of it here is cheeky.

To Take Roll or Not

After 19 years of teaching, I decided to not include a participation and attendance mark. I did have people sign in to assess attendance unofficially. But, what I really wanted to see is if not having participation marks made a difference. Oh, it did. And, the biggest proof is in the marks. I have taught my Gender and Politics course numerous times during my academic career at four¬†universities and I can confidently say that there was a noticeable change in the students’ attendance and their assignments.

  1. Attendance was mediocre at best. And, by not attending announcements were not heard regarding assignments. My syllabus is lengthy, but I speak to each assignment in more depth during a class meeting.
  2. My office hours were not as busy as usual. While some might think that this is a good thing–it’s not. Office hours are important. This is when many students will get the check in to make sure that they are on the right track or the chance to chat about their assignments.
  3. Overall, the marks were the lowest that I have ever seen. Now, they were not terrible, but 3-5 points lower than usual.

My takeaway is that by not having a participation and attendance mark some students do not feel the pressure to come to class, to show up. I’m teaching in the again and I’m going to have a participation and attendance mark. My students benefit from it. I’m going to ask them to show up!


Managing Expectations

This is probably an annual exercise that I go through each year as the new school year looms in front of me. I need to manage my expectations for how much work I can get done during the day or any week. Of course, as an educator I have to constantly manage my expectations about student work and it has to vary between the first year student and the honor’s student.

Thinking of students~ I’m always amazed at how few will complete the assigned readings. Some students will share that I just need to assign less if I want them to complete the readings. Well, I have trimmed the numbers of readings over the years and still find that I’m in the same situation. This term, I’m actually contemplating no exams in the third year level course and more of a focus on writing and reading with different exercises. I like to mix things up for them and for me.

One student comment noted why so many of our classes have a student presentation component. It’s not busy work. I feel it is important for the students to give presentations in front of their peers. And, I speak to good or strong presentations in letters of reference or on the phone as a job reference. So, I will not cut that assignment out of the course outlines.

I am thinking of ways to work smarter and I am not sure if a day dedicated to my own projects will work. Instead, I find that few hours blocked out makes more sense–a day can slip away during the 13 week term. I don’t have the answer, as each term is so different, but I know that it’s a continued struggle to manage my own expectations about my productivity. These next two years I’ll have ¬†reduced teaching load, but my administrative work and attendance at campus wide meetings will increase markedly. I know that managing my expectation will continue to be an ongoing exercise.

How do you manage your expectations? And, how do you manage your productivity?