Dear Mentor: How do professors prepare for a new school year?
from guest mentor Lisa Diller
- Don't prepare before you need to. At the beginning of the school year, I put my goals for the summer into several categories, one of which is “Prep for Next Year” or “Teaching Goals” or something like that. These will usually be separate from department responsibilities or goals. After several years of finding my summer full of teaching prep at the expense of personal growth or research and writing, I have found that I need to put the list of tasks for teaching/school prep aside until August.
- Start coming in to the office for a few hours a day/week to acclimatized. This is if I haven't been doing so already. This helps me remember items to do I had forgotten and it makes the adjustment less dramatic and emotionally draining.
- Start communicating with students. This is helpful to me as I think about how we are all re-entering this time of intense learning and mentoring. I contact the student leaders who are in charge of some of the department activities. I send emails to the students in my classes and my advisees.
- Prep new classes. If I am teaching new classes, I start on those earlier than my repeat classes, about a month out.
- Think about repeat classes. I can become too engaged in this and allow it to take up too much of my time. For my personal habits, I need to put this kind of thing off till the week before classes so that I don't do class prep instead of the other items on my list, since I find it so interesting. However, I like at least to make sure I know where my room is, that the books I've ordered are at the campus shop in sufficient numbers, and to see the composition of my students in the class. I do that three weeks out, and then in the week before all the beginning of year meetings/colloquium or whatall, I spend two or three days being really intentional about my syllabus and making sure of the dates and changing up assignments from pervious years if need be.
- Re-engage personal habits. About a week or two out, I start getting up earlier and making sure I have my exercise and devotional routine down for the year.
- Foster a sense of excitement. I like to allow myself to actually cultivate anticipation for the new year. I look forward o the new students and pray for them and my classes. This may only be a few minutes in all the rush, but I find that it does me good.
from guest mentor Audrey Ellerbee
I’ll be honest, ever since I started graduate school, summer break just hasn’t meant the same thing. Couple that with the fact that my school is on the quarter system and it seems like summer break never comes soon enough! After the students have left and the grades are in, eventually it hits me that I don’t need to teach for several months. My mind slowly lulls into a less frenetic pace and peace eventually comes, occasionally interrupted by the needs of a summer undergraduate research student or a graduate student needing help to move their project forward during what is often their most productive time of year.
On the other side of summer, being on the quarter system gives me a bit of extra time — and fair warning — when summer is ending. For me the time to think about starting school again is when I see my friends at peer institutions going back. The thought usually evokes a bit of frantic preparation for new classes, prompts a planning session on last-minute summer goals and anticipated needs for the fall, and issues reminders to get in my best rest and exercise before life becomes too crazy for both.
In the final weeks and days of summer, I begin to remember everything I love about the fresh start of the new school year, and I anticipate with joy the opportunity to interact with new faces eager to learn new things that I have the privilege to teach. I reorganize my calendar’s block schedule that dictates how I hope to organize my time each week, I set new office hours for my graduate students, and I settle to bed giddy with the thought of what I will wear for the first day of class.
from guest mentor Elizabeth Harper
Ha, I actually have a checklist for this! Here is a general version:
- Put EVERYTHING into Google Calendar, which I can access on my phone (I also copy everything into my paper planner so that I can see what the semester looks like)
a. course times
b. travel dates
c. recurring meetings
d. fitness classes
e. breaks for my university and my kids’ school (these do not always match up)
f. other times I want to reserve, such as research time on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, daily exercise, etc.
g. anything I need to be reminded to do, such as calling a friend once a week, paying bills, or seasonal gardening tasks
- Finish writing syllabi.
- Create systems for each class:
a. set up signups for any due date that is individualized (for example, memory work recitations, special presentations, etc) using Google Docs
b. schedule library days, visits to computer lab, or film screening days if appropriate, including reserving rooms
c. create calendar for each course on Excel, save as csv (Make sure “subject” comes first, then “start date”) so it’s easy to upload to Google Calendar
d. upload it to Google Calendar
- Set up Excel spreadsheets for:
b. assignments that are brought to class but not turned in
- Print spreadsheets
- Set up Blackboard sites, including:
a. create links so students can easily contact me
b. set up groups for different sections
c. set up gradebook
It’s also important to build in time to socialize with colleagues, because everyone comes back from the summer break really friendly and ready to chat. This doesn’t happen after winter break, though I’m not sure why.
from guest mentor Diane Schanzenbach