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.
So 2020 might suck in general, but July 1, 2020 does not suck.
Because it is the birthday of our savior Gottfried Leibniz, that’s why.
ALSO, today is the official start of my tenure-track position, so that’s coolio. Now I need to not screw up for the next three to four years and get some of that sweet, sweet tenure nectar.
So it’s a good day amidst all the madness I guess.
Edit: Oh my god, this remix.
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.
So MATH 249, SCIE 301, and STAT 323 have now been frantically converted to online format!
Classes have been cancelled today, too, because it sounds like they realized that asking instructors to completely readjust their courses with less than 48 hours’ notice was a little rough.
Which is good for me, since it’ll put my video lecture recordings two days ahead of when they need to be posted rather than just one. Buffers are good.
BLAH SORRY too busy to blog.
(Also, I will never tire of referring to the internet as a series of tubes. Never.)
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.
Man, I am ready for this semester to be over.
Making brand new sets of notes* as the semester goes is a lot of work. The last time I was making brand new notes without any prior material of my own was when I first taught STAT 217 in Winter 2017; the last time I was making brand new notes for a subject I’d never even taught before was when I first started working at UI in 2012.
So it’s been a while.
And I forgot how much freaking work it was.
*And lab material, and additional practice problems, and practice midterm keys, and midterms, and a final.
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.
Is the semester over yet?
I spent twelve hours at work today.
Which is actually not as unusual as you might think for me, but the reason I was able to do so today was because I didn’t walk (today is my scheduled day off).
Which I realize now was a stupid thing to do, because the weather is supposed to be crap tomorrow, Sunday, and Monday.
But I also realize that I’d probably STILL BE AT WORK if I’d walked this morning, so…
(Not that it matters; it’s 4 AM and I’m still doing work from home.)
Gotta love midterm season.
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.
Final exams are always chaotic, especially if you have to try to coordinate four instructors and approximately 1,000 students across three different rooms.
BUT IT’S OVER NOW, so it’s time to grade.
Also, I’m pretty sure my blogs got lost in the mail. It says they got shipped, but it’s been more than two months now (I think?) and even with the postal strike that happened, I would have thought they’d be here by now. SAD NEWS. I guess I can just order another copy, it was only like $20.
UGH this was a long semester. Lots of work. Lots of lecturing. Lots of answering emails. Lots of office hours.
600 students is a lot of students.
I’m so freaking burnt out right now, but I guess I can’t really afford to be. Time to start working on next semester, I guess.
But not today. Today I will be the most useless human being in existence.
OH WAIT I ALREADY AM