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.
AAAAAAAAAAA SUMMER CLASSES START TODAY AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
This will be my first full semester online. It will also be the first time I’ve taught two classes in a short semester since I taught STAT 213 and STAT 217 a few springs ago.
Hopefully it will all go okay. My two classes are back-to-back, though, which means I’ll be talking for four hours straight on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays…not sure how my voice is going to handle that. I guess we’ll see.
SHORT BLOG SORRY BYE
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.
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.
So like I mentioned in an earlier blog, all three of my classes meet right in a row, starting at 9:30 and ending at 1:45.
I don’t mind that, of course, but I can already tell this is going to be brutal on my voice. We’ll see if it makes it to the end of the semester.
So this upcoming semester just went from “I don’t know if I’ll be teaching” to “I might be getting one class” to “I’m getting THREE classes” very quickly.
- THREE CLASSES! They obviously need me, which gives me (hopefully) better chances of a permanent job sometime in the future maybe kinda sorta please?
- These three classes are two STAT 213 classes and the only STAT 217 class being offered this semester. I’ve done these classes before, so prep work won’t be too bad. Hopefully.
- The classes meet back to back to back on Tuesdays/Thursdays and they’re not too far away from one another.
- I will have SIX HUNDRED students. That’s…a lot.
- I’ll probably have to drop that Continuing Education math class, though, just because that would probably be a little too much.
- …That’s pretty much it for the “bad.”
So this week has sucked royal nuts for various reasons. But today I got an email from Jim saying that STAT 213 in the spring was suddenly available and that it could be mine if I wanted it.
And I had to very calmly reply “yes plz give” without actually being like “YES PLZ GIVE!”
So yeah. I get two classes this spring: STAT 213 and STAT 217. I’ll hopefully be getting STAT 217 in the summer, too.
(And, you know, more classes in later semesters as well.)
So I had a meeting with Jim this morning to talk about next semester. Turns out I not only get to teach TWO classes next semester, but one of them is a 300-level class! I’ve never taught a 300-level class before.
It’s called “Statistics for the Physical and Environmental Sciences,” and it sounds like STAT 213 and STAT 217 combined and for people with a calculus background. I also get to teach them R, which is fantastic.
So yeah, I’m SUPER FREAKING EXCITED. I didn’t think I’d get any classes next semester, let alone two.
Let’s hope this trend continues!
I’m probably more stressed about tomorrow’s than some of my students are. I’m worried something’s going to go wrong, because that’s been the defining characteristic of this semester so far.
Sorry for the crappy blogs. Been really busy/stressed/nervous/overwhelmed.
Dudes, teaching this night class is the best thing ever.
Like…I have all day to walk and then go to work from 6 PM to 9 PM? You couldn’t even imagine a better time of day for me to work.
This is so fantastic. My job cannot get better.
Well, actually, I guess the only way it could be better is if there was any sort of permanence to it past this semester. I would love to have this as my career, I really would. But I have to just be patient at this point.
Will everything work out so that I can do this for the rest of my life?
But I really, really, really am hoping it will.
Edit: here’s the room I’m teaching in. This is the view from my little lecture podium.
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.
What’s the only thing better than teaching stats?
Teaching an evening class of stats!
(Which…I guess…is still teaching stats…just…just humor me here.)
I talked to Jim today and not only does it sound like I’m going to get to teach in the spring (which is like the first summer session at UI), but I’ll get to teach the super late “none of the other instructors want this timeslot” evening class of 217. That means I can spend ALL DAY WALKING before going in to work, especially since I’ll already have my class notes mostly prepared (due to teaching 217 this semester).
That’s going to be awesome.
Now I just need to somehow get a course to teach for fall, haha. I will do everything in my power to make this a permanent thing.
Teaching is over for the semester.
I am sad.
But I’d be a lot sadder if I didn’t have anything to teach next semester.
I really, really hope that I’ll continue to be needed as a lecturer. Hell, I don’t need any major job security at this point. If it has to be semester-to-semester for a while, I’ll take it.
I just…I want to keep doing this. This is what I’m meant to do with my time on this earth, I’m sure of it.
It’s TEACHIN’ TIME!
I don’t think I can properly convey my excitement over being able to teach statistics again. I mean, I guess I’ve been running labs for the past two years, but it’s just not the same, you know? I really feel like teaching statistics—especially intro statistics—is what I’m meant to do with my life.
And I know this position is only temporary (I’m technically only hired through December 31st of this year), but I’m going to do whatever I can to see if I can keep it going longer. Surely some of the higher up professors who teach 213/217 would want an opportunity to focus more on their research or on the upper-division courses they’re teaching, right?
Either way, I am eternally grateful to Scott for really pushing those in charge to hire me. I’m pretty sure I would have never gotten this opportunity without his influence. Now I just have to prove that I know what I’m doing and hope that they need somebody for next semester.
I AM, THAT’S WHO!
This afternoon, in the span of about an hour, I went from hoping to eventually get a teaching job somewhere to hearing that I get to teach a section of STAT 213 in the fall. It’s currently just for that semester, meaning there’s no guarantee that I’ll be hired for any subsequent semesters, but that’s what they said at UI and I worked for two years (plus summers) as a lecturer there before heading to the frigid north.
I am super, super excited, yo.