Classically Inclined

December 19, 2011

Reflecting on the autumn 2011 semester

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 2:27 pm
Tags: , , ,

A recent Faculty Focus post on End of Semester Reflections: Beginnings, Endings and Spaces Between reminded me that I wanted to do some thinking about the term that has just finished, especially since it is the first term that I’ve spent in a full time position. I’ll do some more specific reflection on the new assignments I’ve been tracking later in the week (I hope!), but this post is more of set of general reflections on the experience while it’s still fresh in my mind.

I think what I will remember most about this term in five years is that actually, I coped rather well. Not only did I have to learn an entirely new system of timetabling, assessment setting, university norms and all the general institutional process that comes with a new job, but I stayed on top of it – and even managed to get some research done. I kept two weeks ahead of my teaching prep, which is the practice that keeps me sane and gives me a buffer in case something goes wrong; I didn’t stay up until 3am doing prep; I got all my marking done on time; I gave every lesson and lecture I was supposed to; I didn’t miss any deadlines. True, I was sometimes scrabbling around said deadlines, but I got there in the end – and I think that’s a pretty impressive achievement for a first term.

I think I’ll also remember the change in environment and students. To some extent, this is as much about changing institution as it is about changing country. When I started my PhD, I accounted for a lot of differences that I later realised were arising because I was in America by assuming they were because I wasn’t in Cambridge any more – the change of institutional culture felt far more significant than geographical shift. Equally, while some changes are clearly cultural (like students being legally able to drink from day one at the university), others are down to the institutional environment and character. At the same time, some things have stayed the same despite my expectations to the contrary (see my headdesk moment about evaluation forms from last week). So this term will stick in my memory as a term of adjustment and renegotiation about my teaching environment.

I think I’m also going to be proud of myself for mastering and delivering the content of the courses clearly and efficiently. In particular, I feel I did a reasonable job of teaching the Greek religion lectures, which were the most challenging aspect of this term’s teaching for me. There are things in the syllabus that need to be sorted out, especially the lecture on hero cult and the Eleusinian mysteries (seemed like a good idea at the time, got a lot of confused student responses), but overall I’m quite happy with how the course flowed. I’m also really pleased with how the epic seminar has developed, especially with the growth of group identity, student confidence with the material and the analytical skills I’m trying to nourish. The Roman Novel course for the first years was also great fun, and while it will be good to pick up a new batch next term, I shall miss my tutees as they go off to explore other projects.

What could I have done better? Well, I think the biggest things I would have done differently concern the religion course, which I’ll talk a bit more about in my post on new assessments, but I now have the one minute paper feedback to help me make the necessary changes to my lectures if I have the opportunity to reuse them. The thing about designing a new course is that you don’t know how it’s going to work until you’ve been through it once and monitored its health, so I’m not too worried about that – it’s part of the growth process. I think I’d also redo Roman novel a little bit, so it incorporated more discussion – but then, at the start of this term, my students had some confidence-building to do as they adjusted to university life, and it took them a while to find their intellectual voices. I’ll see if I can rebalance some of the sessions for next semester’s group, which will be a bit smaller and so need less time for practice presentations.

Overall, despite the bumpy moments when I was in reactive mode after the Harryhausen conference, I have actually enjoyed this term’s teaching a great deal. It’s been a challenge learning a new set of institutional ropes and getting used to a new group of students with their own individual needs, but I don’t think I’ve done too shabbily.

Of course, now I’m looking ahead to next term, when I take on the core lectures on Augustan literature, and wondering how that’s all going to fit in… but at least that will be a question of time management, and not of working out what I’m supposed to be doing on the job. Fingers crossed that it will all go smoothly!

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