The Demands of Teaching
This semester I am teaching three
university courses on special overload assignment, including a new course which is being developed from
scratch with lots of competing interests involved. Although I only
have 8 to 10 actual lecture hours per week (mostly to about 100
students each), I am finding the resulting responsibilities to be
extremely time-consuming and stressful and sometimes overwhelming.
So I decided to consider why this is so, by listing the various
demands of teaching courses at university.
This, then, is a brief summary of some of the ways that teaching a
university-level course takes lots of time and effort:
Some of these responsibilities (e.g. planning, writing, designing,
creating) are much harder work when teaching a NEW course, or a course
for the FIRST TIME, or a course that you are CHANGING quite a bit.
In any case, all of these activities take a lot of time, and they
all add up -- especially when teaching three courses at once.
- The actual LECTURING : a "performance", with stress, gearing up,
coming down, etc. (Kind of like performing in a play.)
- Final PREPARATION for lectures: going over the material, making
sure you know everything well, being prepared for any questions, etc.
- PLANNING the lectures: deciding what material to cover, in what
order, at what level, explained how, using what examples, etc.
(For a new course without a textbook, this can be quite challenging.)
- WRITING course lecture notes: to post and/or use while teaching.
(This takes a lot of time -- depending on the level of detail, it can
be almost like writing a short book.)
- DESIGNING the course structure: how many tests and when, how many
homeworks and when, what marking scheme, what textbook if any, etc.
- CREATING course materials: homework assignments, tests, activities, etc.
(Also quite time-consuming.)
- DEALING WITH STUDENTS: missing prerequisites, absence excuses,
content questions, office hours, special requests for students
with accessibility issues, grade complaints, difficult students,
cheaters, etc. (This seems to never end.)
- GRADING: depending on the course, you might have to grade exams
& tests & homeworks.
(This takes lots of time, especially in large classes.)
- SUPERVISING TAs: depending on the course, you might have to
interview and hire TAs, train TAs, meet with TAs, assign TAs tasks,
ensure the TAs complete their tasks, discipline wayward TAs, etc.
- TRAINING meetings: in some courses (including my new one this
semester), the instructor participates in additional specialised
training sessions for the TAs led by other university offices.
- LEARNING: although *usually* the professor would *mostly*
already know the course subject matter, there are always various
aspects which are subtle and require rethinking or investigating
or examining in a new light. (Indeed, it has been said that the best
way to really learn a subject, is to teach it.)
- ADMINISTRATION: booking classrooms, arranging classroom
technology, assigning students to tutorials, making a course web
page, uploading to a course management web system, reviewing course
description and prerequisites, dealing with university exam procedures, etc.
And of course, this is all in addition to OTHER regular duties of a
university professor, including:
So that is why we university professors are usually pretty busy!
- SUPERVISING RESEARCH STUDENTS: guiding PhD students (and
sometimes MSc or undergraduate students) in conducting original
research projects, requiring regular meetings, lots of advising,
reading their written work drafts, etc.
- ATTENDING RESEARCH SEMINARS, usually at least once or twice a
week, sometimes including hosting a visiting speaker which is
pleasant enough but time-consuming.
- UNIVERSITY SERVICE: hiring committees, departmental committees,
etc., all require lots of meetings and some reading and planning.
- EVALUATION DUTIES, such as refereeing research papers, evaluating
research grant proposals, writing letters of recommendation for
research students and for colleagues for jobs and prizes and
- ORIGINAL RESEARCH: the biggest
job of all. It takes huge amounts of thinking and investigating
and discussing and pondering and meeting and perhaps even traveling,
to hopefully one day make a substantive advance on human knowledge,
which then has to be written up and submitted to a journal and revised
as necessary before finally hopefully amounting to one more research
publication -- which is the lifeblood of our careers. Indeed,
we are expected to spend about half of our time on this, and most
research-active professors actually spend more than that. Fortunately,
the timing of research projects is often somewhat flexible, so it
can be scheduled "around" other duties like teaching, with much of
the work being done during e.g. vacation time and summer months.
[This page is by Jeffrey Rosenthal:
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