Thursday, September 1, 2011

$1600 Gone in a Flash

This is an odd week for me.

I just finished 8 weeks of teaching two film classes. It was a busy two months, teaching back-to-back nights in different cities.  But it was a good run – I had engaged students, taught 4 new movies that were well received, and the responses on the essay test really blew me away. 

So final grades are in, the textbook resumes its spot on the bookshelf, and my prep materials are safely stowed away for future reference.

What makes this an unusual end to a class is that I was scheduled to start teaching a literature class this week as well. 

Note the past tense.

I learned a few days ago that not enough students registered for my class and so it was canceled.  This is standard university policy – it’s just not cost effective to pay an instructor to teach less than 10 students. 

Now I’ve taught close to 50 classes, but this is the first time I’ve ever had one canceled.  This leaves me with a lot of mixed feelings. 

The bonus to this situation is the amount of time I gain back – 40 hours in the classroom, 16 hours of driving, and however many hours spent grading and emailing.  We’ve got a lot going on in our life right now, so having another free evening is not a small thing.

However, there are some definite downsides.

The first is a teaching-related concern.  I’ve taught literature a handful of times, twice before at this particular university.  I made few changes between the original courses as I was still feeling the ropes, but I was ready on the 3rd run to make adjustments. Add to this a recent university directive to add more “rigor” to gen ed courses and I was eager to get creative.

So I changed the course.  The reading list stayed virtually the same, but I redistributed the points across different assignments.  I went from 1 presentation, 1 midterm, and 1 final paper to 1 small presentation, 1 midterm, 2 responses, a final PowerPoint presentation, and no paper.

You may not be interested in my teaching methods, but here’s the thing – students have access to your syllabus prior to registering for the course.  On my old format, I clearly had enough students to hold class.  But under the new format, I did not.

There may be a number of factors why this course didn’t fly – it’s fall and students want to concentrate more on major classes, not many this term needed to fulfill a gen ed requirement, literature isn’t very popular in the first place, ect …

But I do wonder if my changes had anything to do with it.  I was excited to teach with the new assignments/activities, knowing they would enhance students’ understanding of literature and let us cover a great range of authors and topics.   
I wouldn't suggest I'm as awesome as Mr. Keating, but I'm a big fan of making literature accessible
I don’t regret the changes – if I get to teach this course again, I will stick to my new design.  I just wish I knew why there wasn’t enough interest.

But this is life as a college instructor – classes get canceled, it happens.  However, because I’m hired from term to term, I do not know when I will be teaching again next.  It might be again in October (another movies class), but nothing has been decided yet.        

The other thing that this cancelation has caused is lost income.  Though I’d signed my contract, redesigned the class, prepared all of the materials, and had my syllabus turned in, no students = no pay.

I would never say that it wasn’t worth it.  I have a fantastic literature course ready to deploy when the time is right.  But I can’t deny that we had plans for my pay.  It was to fuel debt reduction, nothing earth shattering, but that’s a good chunk of change that disappeared with only a few days’ notice.

I love teaching.  I make my bread and butter in publishing, but teaching is a natural state of being for me.  If the structure of higher education and the economy allowed it, I would work as an instructor full time, but such is not the case for our times (and the explanation would take up another post).  Hopefully another opportunity will come, but for the next few months, I will lay my teaching hat aside. 

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