January 1 hasn’t got anything on August 29–if you teach at many American colleges, anyway. Late August is when the new year really begins. And it genuinely feels like something new is upon us at this time, for better or worse. Faculty and students alike have been preparing for it, shopping for it, planning celebrations around it, and dreading it. The first day of a new academic year is genuinely exciting. As for turning the calendar from December to January, well, as Bono sings, “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.”
Despite this, faculty and students alike probably think of January 1 as the best time to make a resolution, forgetting the significance of late August.
How many times have we, in frustrated moments, said to ourselves, “Next semester…” and vowed to make some change in our teaching or work habits?
I’m going to write for at least 15 minutes a day. I’m going to make better use of group work. I’m not going to procrastinate with grading. I’m going to update my presentation on X topic. I’m going to read more articles in my discipline. I’m going to finish Monday’s prep work by Friday afternoon. I’m going to keep my desk tidy. I’m going to call on students in order to spread the comments around (this blogger really needs to resolve to do these last two).
James Lang, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, offers resolutions about experimenting with new pedagogies and using campus events and his classroom’s physical space more effectively.
Of course, habits change slowly, often by fits and starts. It’s why new-calendar-year’s resolutions are so hard to keep. But the difficulty of keeping them is no reason not to make them. New year’s resolutions of any sort testify to our desire to be better, whether better to our bodies or better professionals.
Resolutions are generally easier to keep if they are realistic and if you have a friend or two to support you in keeping them. So if there is something new you want to try in your teaching, or a new pattern in your work you’d like to implement, why not talk to colleagues about it? Someone else may want to try something similar, and you can hold each other accountable.
You won’t even have to buy a little black dress or rent a tux.
Do you have any resolutions for the new academic year? Have you made resolutions in the past and kept them? Is there one you make every year and can’t seem to keep? Say so in the comments. Maybe putting your resolutions out there will make it easier to stick to them. Maybe CELT can help, too.