By Kasey Powers
For the last two years I’ve had the ability to meet my yearly teaching course allowance for my situation in the fall semester. The first time was so I could take a maternity leave for the spring, and this year so that I could use the spring to focus on my dissertation proposal. However, just because I’m not teaching in a given semester doesn’t mean I’m not working to improve my craft.
During my “off-season” I think a lot about teaching. When I’m at my campus I see colleagues who are teaching and we talk about how their classes are going. Sometimes I ask and other times they may have a question for me or want to get feedback on a new idea. There are conversations about activities that maybe didn’t work, and how to improve. There are conversations about how to deal with a specific student situation that I’ve encountered before but my colleague has not. There are many conversations about teaching where I am thinking, learning, and saving ideas for when I’m teaching again in the fall.
It’s also been a time when I’ve been able to step back and reflect on what has been working well and not-so-well in my classes, since I teach the same course most semesters. I have a list of things that I want to improve upon and I’ve had the time to update some of my lectures. This time of reflection is a big difference from the mad rush to change something the night before a class.
Because I’m not spending hours a week prepping and grading I’ve had more time to read news articles. I’ve found so many articles that are perfect to share in my class and I’ve been saving these to a shared folder on my Dropbox so that colleagues who I teach with can use them now. This activity is now a habit that I hope to continue when I am teaching again.
If you are considering teaching a new course or you want to make major changes in your class, an off semester is a great time to review textbooks and look for new activities. You might want to look at The Syllabus Project to find variations that other instructors use.
The bottom line is that teaching and pedagogy are an ongoing conversation that occurs whether or not you are teaching in a given semester.