(Historical aside: Bismarck is famously (if apocryphally) quoted as saying that there are two things one should never watch being made: sausages and laws. If he had been involved in University administration, he would have added course scheduling to that list.)
So, I’ve been scrambling to figure out exactly what to do with each course. I’m aided by the fact that I’ve taught each class before, so while there are adjustments to be made, the basic course concept and many tools are already at hand. On the other hand, we (i.e. the Faculty across all the California State University campuses) were supposed to be on strike this week and not supposed to do any work. I have to tell you that I fudged a bit on that one on the one day that the strike actually happened (settled late Monday night), so that I could tell my students what to expect before classes actually began.
More broadly, I’m delighted with the opportunity to get back into the classroom and grateful to my Department Chair for navigating through all the bureaucracy to get me there.
Thus ends a period of despondency about what I would be doing in the future, a topic with which I have been wrestling since October. Despite my standard advice to others: “don’t retire from something, retire to something” and despite the fact that I am already well into my second career, I found myself struggling to figure out next steps. While I had opened some lines of possibility on specific projects, I had no clear sense of how I would spend my time/attention.
But, even with this reprieve, I am far from “out of the woods.” The enrollment/budget pressures are continuing and it is clear that some version of limbo and uncertainty will recur every semester for the foreseeable future.
In an upcoming posting, I will be talking about how “the world is too much with us.” After I started writing that, I read an interesting piece about how people later in their career need to think differently about how they spend their time: less outward, in “the world,” and “success” oriented; more inward and reflective. The author also plugged teaching/giving back as an important direction. Hmmm, I’ve had that covered in one mode and now need to rethink it….
As to the classes this semester, I can approach them with a renewed sense of opportunity and engagement with my students. But there are no illusions here, my “reprieve” won’t magically get them all excited about what I have to offer. There are new challenges and new techniques and material to bring to bear. For one example, I am moving one class from my heretofore standard “take-home” final exam to one that is “in-class;” blue-books and all. It’s one stab at dealing with the risks of AI-generated student responses.
Of course, one drawback of being a “contingent” faculty member, taking my chances with the course line-up every semester, is that there marginal benefit of long-term investment in learning new material and teaching techniques is pretty low. It’s a real deterrent and actually a detriment to students. Alas, given the current university quasi-vocational, “push-em-through-graduation” mentality, this becomes an acceptable cost.
In any event, now I will have a bit more time to sort through possibilities. I need to be ready for the end of the term in May with some specific plans—in history, philanthropy, or…