The Life of a Contract Faculty Member Nearing the First Day of School
Natasha May, Teaching Commons and Department of Mathematics and Statistics
Monday September 19 2016
As I reflect back, the end of August is always a time of excitement and trepidation. As a contract faculty member, this is the time I wait to see if I get the opportunity to teach. And if so, what will I get to teach? Will it be a course I have taught before? This would be great because then I am not starting from scratch and I get the opportunity to build on what I have done before. I can tweak my syllabus, adjust the assessments and even try something new! Teaching a course is an exciting challenge, but a challenge nonetheless. Particularly if I am asked to teach a course outside of my experience or my area of expertise. This has happened to me before and forced me outside of my comfort zone. Instead of getting to focus my time and energy on the process of teaching and how I am going to engage my students and help them to learn, I am focused on learning the content myself. This leaves little time to plan how I am going to teach, especially when I am asked to teach a course with less than a week until the first day of class.
Has this happened to you? If so, what did you do?
In my case, I was lucky enough to get to connect with the faculty member who normally teaches the course (who was on sabbatical). She was so helpful by sharing her course syllabus, giving me some tips and access to some of her course materials (like past assignments and exams).
Therese Huston (2015), author of the book “Teaching What You Don’t Know” said in a podcast I listened to recently, “I wish I had offered to take an expert to coffee once a week to brainstorm what I should be teaching.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure this would be feasible for me.
Again, however, I was lucky, as this particular course I was teaching was meant to prepare students to write an actuarial exam, which means that the course learning outcomes were set out by the actuarial board. This helped to minimize the pressure of planning the course with less than a week to go. Sure I had to do research to determine what this exam was all about, but it was easy to determine what the outcomes for the course would be, and that guides the course design. One of the most important things I have learned about course design is to focus on your course learning outcomes and ensure your course is helping students to achieve these outcomes and measuring how they have achieved the outcomes. This will take some of the pressure off because you don’t have to learn everything about the subject. Once you determine the outcomes, you can focus what you will cover and this helps me, at least, not to get overwhelmed by content and trying to learn and cover everything. So, if you’re not as fortunate as me to have the course learning outcomes determined (although this is the fun of designing courses, maybe when you’re not so pressed for time) hopefully you can have coffee with a content expert to brainstorm the course learning outcomes for the course. If this still doesn’t seem feasible to you, doesn’t really help you, or you want to continue the conversation and brainstorm other strategies, please join myself and Teaching Award Winner, Dr. Rob Heynen, for the workshop I Want to do More, but I Don’t Have the Time: Strategies to Focus Your Teaching on Wednesday September 28, 2016, 10am-12pm in Victor Phillip Dahdaleh (formerly TEL) Building, Room 1009. We look forward to hearing about your experiences and what you would find helpful.