I need to get over myself.
I am doing exactly what I have done for semesters now: I am over prepping my courses.
I’m paralyzed thinking about updating the syllabus for a course I’ve already taught because I know it needs some work. I’m in the middle of at least 7 books, trying to find just the right chapter to include in my reader. I’m thinking and thinking about the best way to incentivize students’ engagement with the material, how I’ll manage the writing I plan to assign, and what I’ll do with the old lecture slides I’ve already adapted for old material.
Truthfully, none of this really matters. The hours I’ll spend agonizing over the right chapter will make little difference to my students. The language I use to clearly convey my expectations won’t matter either. My course will be one of at least four if not five other courses my students balance. Some of those students will be thinking about how to get the best grade with the least effort. Others will be working to please me all semester. Still others will balance the demands of their jobs outside of school and will worry about making ends meet before polishing their paper drafts for my course.
Faculty members think higher education is a transformative experience. In a conversation with a colleague recently, he admitted that he was unsure if his courses were truly transformative. And after admitting this out loud, he followed up quickly that his doubt didn’t mean he was giving up on his students. Students are in higher education for many different reasons. Beyond the lofty idea that they’re “getting an education,” students are earning an important credential that signals something to the labor market. That credential tells hiring departments that they’ve fulfilled the obligations to be deserving of a college degree but little else about their actual learning. Has their higher education transformed their thinking? We can never be sure.
When I think about my learning objectives, my expectations for my students, my institution, and the business of my own work, all I can hope is that they take away a tidbit from class discussion, that they change their minds about anything, and that they become more contemplative readers and writers. Reading and writing in this new age of information will be the key to their success. And those people who can digest, analyze, and create information in its various forms will be successful beyond measure.
All of the course prep in the world can’t prevent things happening in the world. I might cancel a class or have few students show up. There could be a national or natural event that interferes with classes and their lives. They might hate my assignments or they might love them. All of the thought and care, crafting this syllabus, this testimony to the knowledge I have about the subject and the hopes I have for their own personal development, it is all worthless if I am not able to learn something from them as well.
So I wait to meet them.