C’est des tips volés

12 things, none of them a real solution to anything. Mostly these are about letting myself be a “good enough teacher.”


1. Cancel a class. Ideally timed to a point in the term when students are cramming my office or when I know I’ll need to catch my breath. Very hard to give oneself permission to do this. But my God it helps. (This works particularly well on the quarter system.)

2. Drop an assignment — even if this departs from the syllabus, even if you’ve already started the term with a plan, if you are spending all your time grading, there’s one way to fix this, which is by giving fewer assignments. Again, hard to give oneself permission, especially mid-course but I have NEVER regretted doing this.

3. Next best thing: Convert an assignment to pass/fail.

4. Grade only with letters or, even better, with just A/B/C/D – no pluses/minuses. Helps to draw the line more clearly between an “A” and a “B.” And man o man it speeds up grading! I end up giving more As than I would, but that’s OK.

5. It feels like a total betrayal, but, depending on assignment no comments beyond those which explain the grade.

6. Assign bibliographic research — an annotated bibliography takes less time to evaluate than does an essay. You end up teaching them a lot as most have no idea how to research anything, but this is less soul killing than reading essays. Most of your teaching is done face-to-face rather than in comments. Someone else said this, which means it is not lazy of me to do it.

7. If you have a large class and can hire a grader, hire 2 — it pays so little, most students who hire themselves out as graders are doing it for the exposure to teaching upper division classes — but if you hire 2, you can split the grading 3 ways. In a 90-person class, this means that you each handle 30. 30 is much better than 45. This kind of arithmetic is important.

8. Do not meet with students outside of office hours, move office hours once or twice during the term to make schedule conflict less likely.

9. Say no to all LOR requests for a term, unless its a PhD student on the job market. I’ve never been able to see this through but it does mean in a term like that I only write LORs for the exceptional student.

10. Make the following a matter of policy: you read but do not reply to their emails. Period. All questions about grades must be made in person, after class or during office hours, no exceptions.

11. A trick, for when you are “in the weeds” and are entering a week when prepping for class is going to be hard—make your students bring questions to class, written down. Collect at the beginning of class, and spend the whole class answering the most interesting ones. This is fun, it really works — and it requires no prep beyond doing the reading yourself. I do this even when I am not “in the weeds.” Why: because it allows me to meet the students where they are. I tend to prepare way above their level and class does not go well then.

12. (related to 11) Teach from handouts made of key quotations from that day’s reading. Also, assign a question on the reading to be answered in writing before class, and organize discussion based on the answers people bring. (Make them answer in a serious way, of course, if you want this to work.)

12. (related to 11) NEVER assign material you haven’t read within the past 2 years. Generally a good rule of thumb. I should do this. I had never thought of it since I am usually assigned to teach so far out of field. But I should do it and make it a rule of thumb: also for accepting invitations to speak and write.


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