New year’s resolutions

A toast!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.

This time of year, offering a truly new beginning and a new schedule, might even be a good opportunity to resolve to eat differently or exercise more (goodbye, Marketplace; hello, Scandlon?).

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.

Photo by Flickr user ginnerobot. Creative Commons licensed.

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5 responses to “New year’s resolutions

  1. I want to be more conscious of getting into the day’s agenda for class more quickly. I often take the first few minutes of class to try to make sure all the students are on the same page. So I might recap the last class session or explain a particularly tricky point. The trouble is, what I think will take five minutes to explain often ends up taking fifteen, setting the agenda back. I think I need to use a timer to keep those initial remarks to just a few minutes. A resource I’ve found to help is e.ggtimer.com.

  2. First of all, I would take exception to Jon associating marketplace with unhealthy eating. While one can stuff themselves silly, since it is “all you can eat,” it is very possible to eat there every day and still eat healthy. They do a great job of having plenty of healthy options. I’ll forgive you this time Jon! 🙂

    But, on to teaching business. I’ve resolved to do a few things. Let class out on time (stop going over), and spread around the comments and questions more. The problems are related, however, especially in LAS and solving one can make the other worse. For example, if I spread around questions about the reading, I am more likely to get someone who has not read, and they will sit there and say nothing for a while before bumbling through a long winded made-up answer to the question I asked. I then have to spend time showing that the student has misunderstood part of the reading (so the other students don’t get confused), and before I know it asking one question has taken up 10 minutes of a 50 minute class–and we can’t get to the important stuff, and I end up going over in the class. The way to solve this is by learning how to “get out” when it is clear that a student hasn’t read, and is just taking up class time–but this is not an easy thing to do.

  3. I’m aiming for better focus. I totally hear what Kyle is saying about letting a student’s well- or unwell-intentioned effort to make up an answer to a question that he or she really doesn’t understand set off of a long-winded response of my own. I can ramble way past the point of usefulness and into a realm where I am likely making things more confusing for the students. Some of that, I’m sure, is inevitable. The classroom has to allow for not-knowing to take up a certain amount of airtime. But I want to have one clear hook–maybe I’ll think of it as the chorus or refrain in a song–for each class period that I can come back to again and again. I always have *some* sort of objective for a class (if only in my head), but I’m going to work on making my class objectives more clear, more succinct, more like something I can grab hold of and repeat if I (or a student) starts losing track. I may also try the old “So, what did we learn here today?” at five or ten minutes before the end of the session, just to check.

  4. I have resolved to work harder to make sure my assignments in Core 100 match up to the objectives for the course (which sounds extremely nerdy). But Core 100 is a class in which the content discussions can overshadow the critical reading objectives we should be working toward. This year, I am trying to make sure that every single summary, worksheet, informal writing, etc. ties into a specific objective on the syllabus.

  5. I love the blog, Jonathan, but this post hits a raw nerve. 🙂 Here’s what I just posted on my own blog, under the heading “Avatar.” Not much practical advice. More like a mantra….

    “My classes begin at the end of the week. It’s time to produce tight, polished course schedules, but my drafts are still skeletal. I want teaching’s muse to linger. I want to luxuriate in fresh possibilities.

    I’m also afraid. I hear the noise of the new year: the pressures and anxieties will accumulate like lake-effect snow.

    I have to remember that the muse enters the noise. It joins the struggle. It commutes.”