Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reading Week

What a crazy run this has been. I'm more than halfway through my courses and still loving it. But it has kept me so busy that I have been struggling to have enough time with my family let alone blogging and all the other hobby activities I engage in. I really hope that I get to teach either of these courses again, a second run through will see me so much more prepared. But I'm not sure it would be that much less work.

Marking is not something I liked when I was teaching IT. It was definitely easier to mark something if it is definitely right or wrong - but essays don't work that way. Especially when you are dealing with some highly abstract concepts at times. Most of my students (that I have evaluated) are doing quite well with the tasks and responding very well to my feedback on completed assignments. That is most satisfying. I am still committed to the idea that a big role for me in the Intro to Theology class is to give students tools with which to approach their whole time at Saint Paul University. Strangely enough though, I actually like the process of marking. I have taken the wise advice of others and built a grid for each different assignment - and after reading the paper and making comments I simply walk through the grid and end up with a grade. This ensures that the results are fair and, hopefully, consistent. It also prevents me from taking off a tonne of marks for repeated mistakes.

I was hoping to have several lectures prepared in advance - not the reality. I do have them all roughly mapped out - but each week I am constructing two sets of power point slides as well as two sets of lecture notes. The strategy of using slides to guide the conversation is helpful - it also means that my slides do not need to convey real content. Sometimes an image will suffice for a 20 minute conversation. It is the notes that really needs a lot of work. I use word and drop in mini images of the slides that the lecture section references. I've found that 12-18 pages is enough in the Intro to Theology class where students interact less and 10-14 pages is usually more than enough in the Christian Spirituality where the conversations can really take off. Took me a few weeks to get that sense for how much material will fit into the lecture based on how much interaction I can expect from the class. Interaction is a big variable - I have tonnes of experience timing out talking head material. I should say that my notes are far from detailed - lots of points. Really they keep me from getting off track - sometimes I do that especially when students start asking great questions.

This week, being reading week, is a chance to catch up on all the little tasks I've forgotten as well as prepare my final lectures. I commented to a student that I don't know who is learning more - it is an incredibly enriching experience teaching. You have to be on your toes the whole time (mentally exhausting) and ready for anything. One student even commented, out of the blue, that he could not imagine me without my goatee. That really can throw you when you are expecting a serious question. I shaved it down to my soul patch chin hawk before the next class (mostly for my wife who prefers that look)  and shocked him when he came in. Aside from being on your toes for mostly serious questions - I am learning the boundaries of my knowledge. Fortunately, I've long moved past the need to know everything and always have an answer. I'm good at thinking on my feet, but I also think I know when to defer things until I've had a chance to look into it further.

I hope to be blogging a bit more this week.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Tight Squeeze

Last night Sharon commented that she thought my working would afford us more time together. In fact it feels like we are both still running on opposite schedules. She's getting home just as I need to leave, and vice versa. Last night I was feeling overwhelmed with the need to have today's lecture completed. I was home alone with the kids in the evening and only had notes for half of it (although I really knew what I wanted to cover, the thing is writing it out helps solidify and organize things for me, and it helps me know if my slides and board word work will do the trick). I started getting angry with the kids, much to my shame. After supper they seemed to settle into a tv show and I thought I could sneak down and crank out a few more pages. Not long into it though Chelsea came down to tell me she has homework and needs help. It was an overwhelming moment, I sort of panicked and wanted to write a nasty letter to her teacher (selfish I know). I called my loving wife and she started sharing her own frustrations about being so busy at work that she hadn't been able to eat her meal. That was like a punch in the gut actually. I knew I couldn't write a letter - that was just me taking out my frustration on my family. So I actually took a few minutes to calm down and went to find Chelsea (she went off to play frustrated that she was going to have to drag her math book (who still uses math books???) back tomorrow night to do her homework then). I apologized for my poor behaviour, explained the circumstance and helped her figure out how to do her homework. She was just a bit stuck, so I unstuck her and she was off to the races.  I did get to work a bit on my notes while she did the questions she could - but after that I came up and helped her think through the last one. Then she decided to stay up and draw while I did my workout (another stress was that I hadn't gotten to that yet!) then I spent time putting her to bed. After that I realized that Elyssa needed me too - so we spent time with Buttercup Sprinkles (our new hamster) and she told me a long story about hamster facts she is reading. At this point I was no longer worried about my notes. But funny enough, after Elyssa was down I was able to finish most of my notes before Sharon got home. I did end up staying up late - but that is not such a bad price to pay for time with my kids.