So this nightmare of a semester is finally over.
Teaching online is…not enjoyable. I miss actually getting to see and interact with my students. I feel so disconnected from them and I feel like I’ve been absolute crap at my job this semester, even though I’m really trying to do the best I can given the garbage circumstances.
It’s so demotivating, and now is not the time to become demotivated. It’s also SUPER FREAKING FRUSTRATING that the first “real” (non-spring/summer) semester of my tenure-track position has been marred by online nonsense, and it’s even more SUPER FREAKING FRUSTRATING that my first actual course coordinating assignment (next semester’s STAT 213) will be during an online semester rather than a “normal” one. I feel like no matter what I do, I won’t get to show my true ability to coordinate effectively, especially since everyone is new to online teaching and there are so many things that can go wrong.
But the main thing? I miss my students. I miss actually teaching them in person and feeling like I’m making a difference in their learning. I’m definitely not getting that vibe this semester and it’s destroying my soul.
So very demotivating.
And just for clarification, I’m not blaming the U of C for any of this. They (at least the Math/Stats Department) did the smart thing by making all the courses online this semester and next, especially with how Alberta’s crashing and burning COVID-wise right now. It just…sucks.
Let’s talk about online teaching!
So U of C shut down in-person classes (and campus in general) in mid-March last semester because of COVID. I won’t be teaching again until summer, but I am doubting that classes will be in person by then. Hell, classes might not be in person in the fall, either.
I ended up using my laptop in its “tablet mode” to finish out the remainder of last semester, meaning that I used it like a tablet to write out all my notes while I dictated and recorded the notes/dictation, then uploaded all the recorded lectures to YouTube. This worked okay, except doing 50-minute recordings made my laptop super hot and I don’t want to demolish it during summer, where I’ll be teaching back-to-back two-hour classes M/W/F.
So I decided to get all fancy and bought a Wacom One tablet!
I’m scared to open it ‘cause it was super expensive and I don’t want to break it, but I’ll have to test it out before summer to make sure it actually does what I need it to do. Namely, I’ll need to be able to write in OneNote on my little note packet PDFs and record the tablet screen while doing so.
Edit from a few weeks later: okay, yeah, this is going to work really nicely I think. The tablet reads as another monitor to my computer, so when I’m lecturing through Zoom, I can “share screen” my tablet and whatever window(s) I have open on the tablet screen show up to my students and get recorded.
Edit from summer semester: this works amazingly! I love this little tablet. Definitely a worthwhile investment, since fall will also be online.
OH MY GOD YOU GUYS.
OH MY GOD.
Let me tell you about my day today.
So as I’m sure you’re all aware (if you read my blog, at least), I am currently in a limited-term contract at the U of C, which I just got last August after being a sessional (semester-by-semester) instructor since 2016. This limited-term contract is good through this coming August (2020).
I’m sure you’re also all aware that my dream is to have this job as my career for the rest of my life, so I’ve been really trying to let the higher-ups know that I would basically do anything to keep teaching here.
Anyway, Alberta just made some huge cuts to education, which will affect the U of C in some sort of negative way. We’re not sure how bad it will be yet as the University has not yet released its new budget, but we know it will be a cut from what we’ve got going on so far.
So you can imagine that when our department head emailed me and said he wanted to talk to me today, I was immediately like “oh fuck, here we go, he’s going to tell me they can’t renew/extend my limited-term contract after August and he’s just giving me a heads up.”
That’s not what happened.
Want to know what happened instead?
He said that they’re going to be converting my limited-term position into a tenure-track position.
Do you know what that means? That means that I’ll be able to go up for a tenure review and possibly become a tenured professor. Tenure is basically the supreme job security level.
Tenure is permanence.
And they feel like I’ve earned the right to apply for it.
W H A T .
I don’t think I’ve completely wrapped my head around this yet. This is a huge step towards what I’ve been wanting ever since I started teaching back in 2012. This is the university basically saying “we like you and need you and have confidence in your abilities.”
This is a huge, huge deal to me.
I’m so freaking excited.
So I’m sure you’re all curious as to what I’m teaching next semester, right?
Edit: MATH 249
That SCIE 301 class is not even in the Math/Stats Department, so that’ll be interesting (that’s the one I was in the meeting for last week).
I hope the fact that I can teach math, stats, AND outside the department increases my usefulness around here. I fear for my future, even though I’m good up through next August.
So this is my first semester teaching as an actual factual instructor rather than a sessional instructor.
This is also my first semester teaching Calc I (MATH 265) instead of “Introductory Calculus” (MATH 249), though it sounds like the two classes are very similar.
[Word doesn’t recognize the word “yo?” What in the actual hell.]
So I found a couple things of interest with respect to teaching that I’d like to post here, both for my own reference later and for anyone else who might be interested.
The first is an article by Dr. Evan Peck, an assistant professor of computer science at Bucknell University. It’s basically a document detailing some things that he’d like his students to know about him as a professor. I really like this idea; it allows the student to see a more personal or “human” side of a prof while also emphasizing important aspects of the teaching process, like the benefit of office hours or letting students know that it’s okay if they’re not immediately experts in the subject being taught.
The other is an article from the American Mathematical Society that talks about why we teach, methods of instruction, and how giving instruction more life and personality (as opposed to being super professional and button-down) can really engage students more and increase enthusiasm for the topic being taught (specifically math in this case).
Super interesting. Give them a read!
I’ve been super vague on this blog regarding this topic ‘cause I didn’t know what the outcome would be and didn’t want to jinx it, but here we go.
Back in June, there was a job posting for an instructor position in the math/stats department here at U of C. I was encouraged to apply for it, which I readily did. Last week I had my interview (it was just myself and some other dude who got to that point).
And today? I got the news that the job is mine!
Starting September 1st, I will be a limited-term instructor with a guaranteed one year contract. That might not sound like much, but that’s a big step in the right direction. I currently am a sessional instructor, which means that I’ve just been hired on a semester-by-semester basis. Zero job security, lots of panic near the ends of semesters, and way too much insecurity for a control freak like myself.
But now? I’m guaranteed work through next August. I have a set amount of classes to teach per semester (three in the fall, three in the winter, one in either the spring or summer). I get a semester off (either spring or summer, whichever one I’m not teaching). I’m getting paid a lot more. I get benefits and a pension.
But most importantly, I am one step closer in making this job a permanent, long term thing. I am one step closer to being able to say that I get to work my dream job for the rest of my working life. And I can finally (at least until next July or so, haha) stop spending so much of my energy on freaking out about job security and re-direct it towards teaching.
Because that’s what I love. That’s what I want.
Annnnnnnd SPRING 2019 MATH 249 has ended!
They took their final exam today. It was a three-hour long exam, and honestly, I’d rather be writing the exam than standing around like a turd for three hours waiting for everyone to finish.
Anyway, this class was a lot more enjoyable to teach the second time around, probably because I wasn’t frantically trying to make all the notes/labs/exams/etc. as the course progressed.
So this semester is finally over.
It’s been a long one.
I mean yeah, I guess there’s still finals, but that’s a minute detail at this point.
Successfully teaching that calculus course meant a lot to me. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do it at the start of the year, but I ended up doing it.
I hope I did Leibniz proud. I know that sounds like a really weird thing to say, but it means a lot to me, okay? It just…it just does.
So last night I had a dream in which as I was heading to my calc class to teach, I realized that there had been a “substitute” teacher scheduled for today (I guess because the person who was originally supposed to teach the course needed to be gone that day and had booked the sub in advance). I was a little bit nervous about this because I thought my students might like this dude more, so I decided to just go to class and pretend I was a student so that I could see how well he taught.
I go in there and sit in one of the empty seats. For whatever reason, the attendance is really low that day—maybe 30 or so students are there—so it’s pretty easy to just kind of sit in the corner alone.
This dude puts up some PowerPoint slides and starts in on teaching, but is quickly interrupted by students asking him “why do your notes look different than Claudia’s?” or “why don’t you make your notes like Claudia?” or “why can’t you teach it the way Claudia teaches it?”
This devolves into the students asking him where I am, so I decide to blow my cover (I’m wearing a hat—the perfect disguise!) to tell them that I’m here, but I’ll just be observing that day. The students don’t really like that and keep insisting that I should teach instead of this guy.
So the guy kind of just looks at them and says something like, “am I really that bad?” and when the students affirm this, he just breaks down crying and goes to hide behind some of the desks.
I follow him and just try to console him, telling him it’s nothing personal, it’s just that the students have had me teach all semester and were used to that style. He keeps crying, so eventually I just ask him if he wants me to take over for him. He nods, and I go up to the front of the room and start teaching. I actually end up teaching regression, which is not what I should have been teaching them, obviously (the room was clearly my calc room and not my stats room), but then I woke up.
To me, it’s clear that in this dream, the dude represents me and my thoughts/concerns about being a good math instructor, whereas “me” represents how I feel about teaching stats. One feels competent (at least, competent enough), the other feels like a royal failure.
There was no actual teaching today, since I usually just take the first day of classes to go over the syllabus, expectations, due dates, etc., but it’s nice to be back in the swing of things.
I am both terrified and beyond excited for this calc class. We’ll see how things go.
It’s weird teaching a small section (120 students) of STAT 213, though, especially after having two sections of 240 students (plus 120 students for STAT 217) last semester.
Jesus, I had 600 students last semester. No wonder I had no time for anything else.
I wanted to put this in a separate blog post from the previous one. I’ve already talked about what teaching this calculus class means to me “personally.” I suspect you know what I’m going to talk about in this one.
As I’m sure you are all painfully aware, I really, really like Leibniz. I don’t know what it is about him and his ideas and him as a person (from what I can determine from bios and descriptions of him), but I just…connect with him. I of course am not comparing my meager intellect or impact to his; I just feel like he needs to mean something to me, if that makes any sort of non-creepy-history-stalker sense. I’ve joked in the past that such a connection might be due to a surplus of Leibniz atoms in my body…it may be the case, who knows. The universe is weird.
A while back, I wondered what it would be like if I were to get a chance to teach calculus, never actually believing that I would ever get the opportunity.
But now I’m going to be teaching calculus, and I’m trying to wrap my head around just how much that means to me.
It’s a connection to Leibniz. It’s a pretty loose one, and it’s one hundreds of thousands of calc teachers share, but it’s a connection.
I mean, calculus was something that he helped to develop, refine, and bring to the public. He had a very direct hand in this incredibly useful, powerful mathematical study. The fact that I get to have even just a very small role in the passing on of the knowledge of calculus to others is just…it’s so cool. It’s so amazing. It means so much to me.
Like, come on. If someone has a historical figure as someone they greatly admire, how often do they get to directly help pass on that historical figure’s ideas, inventions, influence, etc. to future generations?
It’s an honor. It really is.
And I don’t care how corny that sounds. It’s how I feel.
Leibniz is my dude, and I am damn proud to be given the opportunity to help teach others about calculus.
OH MY GOD
So this is the “I might have news soon but I don’t want to jinx it yet” from my November list a few weeks ago. Wanna hear it?
I GET TO TEACH CALCULUS.
Yes, you read that correctly.
I. GET. TO. TEACH. CALCULUS.
It’s intro calc, but man, that’s all I need.
I’m a little bit hesitant to blog about this so soon after getting the news, as this means so much to me on so many different levels and I’m afraid that I won’t be able to express its meaning very well. But I guess the “personal” reasons are a little easier to express, so let’s start there.
I never really had an issue with math until 6th grade. I suppose I was decent at it; I didn’t really pay that much attention. I didn’t like it and I didn’t hate it, it was just something I had to do in school. But then I was put into the “advanced math” class in 6th grade (which was just two super smart n’ nerdy boys and myself doing 8th grade math in the janitor’s closet; yes, it was as weird as it sounds). I probably could have handled it had I been put in there at the start of the year, but they threw me in there like two-thirds of the way through the year and I had no idea what was going on. What was a variable? What was a parabola? I had no clue. And that made it so that I couldn’t keep up with the dudes and had to be put back into the “regular” math class.
Yeah, that wasn’t humiliating at all.
But that was the start of my struggles with math. It started to make me really nervous and I started to doubt my abilities. 7th grade math was a bit rough. Then, in 8th grade, I had to miss like a week and a half of classes due to my grandpa dying, and once I got back into things, I was once again lost in math. 9th grade wasn’t too bad (it was geometry and I was decent at it), but 10th grade was the worst. I didn’t like the class (algebra 2), I didn’t like the teacher, and I just dreaded the whole thing. By the middle of the year, I would literally break out in hives whenever I had to walk down the hall to go to that class. I never told anyone about that, but it definitely happened.
Needless to say, as soon as I was no longer required to take math (which was after that 10th grade class), I stopped. I took the minimal amount of math while I was getting my psych degree and it was only once I took the required intro stats course that I started to get into stats. But plain old math still scared me. Hell, even when I was getting my math degree, math scared me. I’d look at an equation and I’d get that nervous dread that always accompanied any dealings with math.
It’s really only been in the past few years that I’ve started to feel more comfortable with math. The comfort is not at all natural; it takes a lot of work to ignore that “oh my god I don’t know what these numbers and letters mean in this equation I am so stupid” feeling that I still get. But just knowing that I’ve gone from math causing me to break out in hives to being qualified to teach math gives me enough confidence to feel like I’ll be able to do this. If I can teach stats with the level of confidence that I currently can, surely I can do the same with math, right?
And hell, I think the fact that I’m not naturally a math person will be helpful for my students. I’m sure there will be a decent number of them who are dreading this calculus class and who are terrified that they won’t be able to understand things. I know what that feels like. I know how bad that feeling is. And I know that it’s important to be able to explain math to the “non-math” people so that they don’t feel stupid or feel like they’re being overwhelmed and can actually get something useful out of the class. And since I am a “non-math” person, I feel like I’ll be able to do that.
And that’s really important to me.
Sooooooooo hey I might be teaching Math 30 (11th grade math) for the U of C Continuing Education Department.
This has been a “maybe” since like April, but now I think it’s finally set in stone.
Scary? Yes. This was math I missed a lot of when I was in school for various reasons, so I’m not familiar with it at all. It’s going to take a lot of work to get there.
But hey, more teaching experience, right?
Holy crapples, this is fantastic.
I think they should have assigned this as required reading to all first-year grad students who had to TA as part of their funding, and then made them re-read it at the beginning of every subsequent year so as not to forget important stuff. It’s also still relevant as an instructor. At least, most of it.
“Many instructors assume that students will read what is handed to them; I think this is incorrect.”
Oh my god, yes. This wasn’t something I ever did as a TA, but as an instructor (both at UI and U of C), I like to take time during the first lecture to actually go over the syllabus and any other important hand-outs. I particularly like to do this in the form of a PowerPoint so that I can really focus on the big things. I think it really helps emphasize what’s important to the students rather than making them wade through a two- or three-page document that includes a little information on every aspect of the class.
“People never learn course material as well as when they have to explain it to others.”
U of C has a thing up here for their 200-level stats classes called “continuous tutorial.” This is kind of like drop-in homework help where a TA staffs a computer lab for an hour, and during that hour students from STAT 213 and STAT 217 can drop in, work on homework, and ask questions of the TA if they have them. During my first continuous tutorial, I botched the hell out of a really simple probability question while helping a student. It wasn’t because I didn’t know how to do that type of problem, but because I hadn’t done that type of problem in quite some time, I blanked on the very simple solution and really confused the student. Brilliant, right? It is super important, both as a TA and as an instructor, to actually work through the homeworks assigned to the students and make sure you know how to do them. Because there’s not a lot of things more embarrassing than blanking on a question covering a subject that you supposedly know well enough to teach to the students.
“To me, motivating means addressing the history, culture, and usefulness of mathematics.”
LAKJSDFLASKFJALKF ASDFYADJFSDJ YES YES YES YES YES YES YES A THOUSAND TIMES YES
If you can put the topic into some sort of “non-computational” context, I think students are apt to be more open to it, approach it with less fear, and maybe even get excited about it. This is such an important idea to me, you have no idea.