Archive for May, 2011

Frustrations of meta-teaching

I’ve just taught my last class of the semester, and there are a couple of things of which I am proud. For the entire semester, I have never been late for any of the class meetings or forgotten to prepare any required teaching material (e.g., source code samples, slides, Web links, etc.). You may wonder what the big deal is, and why one may feel proud about something as trivial as that.

When it comes to teaching, what I find most difficult is not the actual lecturing or even class prep but rather the routine of having to be in the classroom at a certain time during the entire semester. It is quite psychologically burdening to realize that you can never be late under any circumstances. In other words, for me the most frustrating thing about teaching is meta-teaching, a set of routine, strictly scheduled activities I engage in support of teaching.

Trust me I am not a slacker  and  have no problems putting in 12-14 hour work day during research crunch periods, but I always define the restart time with my graduate students fuzzily: “So, we’ll restart sometime late morning, OK?”, “Let’s get more caffeine and restart when we are ready.”  I find it difficult to commit to a strict schedule, and my grad students are willing to put up with that.

It did not help that one of my classes this semester started at 11:15am and that I am a definite night owl when it comes to my work habits. What can I do if I find myself being most productive after 1am? Should I, for example, interrupt a steady stream of inspired writing only because I have to make it to class in the morning? Is it possible to do creative work on a schedule?

Unfortunately, this semester my usual teaching preference of “no classes before noon” could not be accommodated, as I was teaching a large introductory class with strict scheduling restrictions. And yet, despite getting only a couple of hours of sleep at times, I have never been late to a single lecture. Furthermore, I have never forgotten to prepare any required teaching aids for my lectures. Not once during the entire semester! I made it despite the difficult circumstances!

I was asked on several occasions how I got into my late nights working style. Back in my youth, I had a very influential teacher who’d advise his students as follows: “If you have important things to do, don’t go to bed before you have them done. Sleep will take its due, and you’ll sleep better knowing that the burden is off your shoulders.” Ever since I got my faculty job, I feel I have constant important things to do on my plate, and I am never done with them no matter how many hours I put in. But the habit of staying up late trying to have things done has become my general work style.

So now that the semester is over I can get back to my haphazard work schedule without running the risk of being late for my lectures.