Last year I was fortunate enough to be part of a bi-weekly podcast where I would reflect on my experiences as a first-year instructor. I found that designating time for self-reflection and thought was immensely valuable for continuing to improve as an instructor. With that being said I was thrilled when we decided to post a first semester reflection series on the blog this week, as I would again have designated time to be thoughtful and self-critical.
The very first thing that comes to mind when I begin to think about this past semester is that my students are wonderful and fantastic and dedicated…and all the synonyms of these words. In a phrase, my students are incredible and they make coming to school each day well worth it. I consider myself quite lucky to be at an institution where the students are capable, but also embrace the culture of dedicating themselves to their classes and investing in their education. These statements apply to the freshman in my Introductory Psychology class, all the way up to the seniors in my Human Factors Seminar. For example, in my Introductory Psychology class I offered up one point to be added on to their final grades if students scheduled a time to come meet with me about the comments I provided on their first essay assignment. Between my two sections I have 52 students total, and 31 of those students came to meet with me. What’s more, many of these same students sought me out for help in the planning stage and writing stage for their second essay assignment. There are times where I wish I had more time for myself rather than having students in and out of my office all day (I have not worked on my own research nearly as much as I wanted to, and if I am being honest, probably not as much as I should…), but at the end of the day I am here to help these students. If they are willing to put in the time to learn and improve their skills, then I most certainly want to be there to help.
A couple other things that stand out about this past semester are giving a talk at another university and publishing my dissertation. Being invited to speak as part of the speaker’s series at this other university was really cool - the entire day, from the moment I arrived until we finished dinner with faculty and students, was fun. Forming new professional connections and seeing their research endeavors spurred on a whole bunch of neat ideas for potential students and / or collaborations. I hope that I can secure invitations to speak at other universities in the future (or going back to this one would be a-ok with me). Publishing my dissertation was also a bright moment – as we all are, I am very proud of the work I did, and firmly believe that this work will be meaningful to many other scholars in the field. I am excited to see what comes of this work.
And now for things that stood out for the not-so-great reasons. I was selected to be a part of a contingent of faculty members who would take an online course with the aim of improving as college-level educators. The different modules in this course focus on various aspect of the teaching endeavor, from classroom demeanor, to structuring the semester, to vocational mentoring (and more). For the very first time, I was finally going to take a class on how to teach, and I was excited by this opportunity. However, I have been behind all semester and it is eating me up. Completing the weekly modules for this course always got bumped down my to-do list in favor of more immediately pressing tasks (mostly working with students or on my classes). Then, once I would finish up for the day each day, I found that I had no interest in opening my computer back to take an online course. Instead, I often decided to take care of myself and maintain my mental health. I would cook a nice meal, go to the gym, go for a bike ride, play a few holes of golf, etc. in order to ensure that I was not wearing myself out and would be ready to go for the next day. This balance of time and activities will have to change for the second semester. It is my goal to be completely caught up once the second semester begins, and then to stay on track through the spring semester. A bit more discipline and perseverance will do the trick. This is not to say that I will abandon taking care of myself, because in order to be an effective instructor, self-care is vital, but instead, I can wake up one hour earlier on both weekend mornings to put in my time towards the course each week.
Well this post has turned out to be a bit longer than I thought, and I’m sure you guys are done reading my reflections, so I will wrap it up. All in all, excitement is still the word I would use to describe my attitude towards my position and my approach for next semester. I am looking forward to having a few weeks off of class, but I am also looking forward to teaching a new class next semester and meeting the next group of dedicated and talented students. Happy holidays everyone. See you at NITOP.
written by Brian Day