Thoughts on Teaching Summer School – 7/17/2013

Yes.  I know.  I have not written in a while.  You can blame the birth of our daughter and the first nine months or so of her life.  Between teaching a full load, teaching an overload, taking care of the other three kids, and taking care of a baby, blogging has taken a back seat to the rest of life.  Now that things are settled down some, and my teaching is done for the summer, I hope to get back on here a bit.  We shall see how I do, but you have to start somewhere.

I just finished up my seventh summer of teaching full time (yes, I also taught some summer classes as a graduate student).  I have taught online every summer session that I have taught, and this one went about the same as usual.  Since our pay decrease two summers ago, I now have to teach three summer classes to make the amount of money that I want to make, so I taught three sections — two of the first half of American history and one of the second.  I am not sure why my department chair assigns me both halves in the session, as it would be easier to do all of one, but I don’t have a lot of choice there.

While teaching in the summer, I had some general thoughts that I thought I would share.

The quality of students we get at a community college is dramatically higher in the summer.  The majority of students are ones that are off at a 4-year university somewhere and have come back to get a few classes out of the way cheaply.  Thus, the quality of work submitted is often much higher, and the ratio of A’s to the rest of my teaching is much higher.  It reminds me a lot of my teaching in graduate school, where I was always fairly pleased with the quality of work submitted to me.

At the same time, we also get a lot of students who are taking summer classes who should not.  I started out at the end of the spring semester with three full sections at 30 students each.  By the time the summer session started, I was down by about 10 students, as we always lose some for academic suspensions or failure to pay.  Then, in the first week, upon getting into the class and seeing the level of work required, I lost about 10-12 more students.  Then, over the course of the summer session, I had more drop and/or stop attending.  All together, I started out with 90 students at the end of the spring semester and ended up submitting about 55 real grades to students who worked on material all the way through the summer.  This is fairly typical.

One of the requirements at my community college is that we hold physical office hours over the summer, even if we are teaching only online.  The required number of on-campus office hours is fairly flexible, but some must be there, and I ended up holding 8 on campus each week.  In the five weeks of the summer session, I saw three students in those office hours, and they all came on the day before the first exam opened.  So, except for that day, it was a waste of both my time and gas to go to campus every day.  I also held online office hours in the evening for students who could not make the on-campus hours.  In the five weeks, I had no students in my online office hours.  So, traditional office hours were largely a waste.  However, I answered emails all day every day, participated in online discussions, responded to student posts with questions in the classroom, answered messages in our LMS system, graded, evaluated, read drafts, worked on course material, and more.  Yet, if you count my output on what I did during my “official” time in office hours, it would look like I did very little.  This is the conflict that we run into with teaching online, that the actual productive activities are not easily quantifiable or restricted to traditional avenues.  In our culture that wants to quantify everything, it can easily look like I don’t do much, yet, if you ask my wife, I never stop working.  I am busy in the class every day from when I get up until when I go to bed.

As usual, 20% of my students say they loved the class, 1-2 students said they hated it, and the rest are never heard from.  It is frustrating sometimes, as I can only assume I am doing good as most of what I hear is positive.  Yet, all it takes is that one students to write how much (s)he hated the course to drag down the rest.  That is the comment I obsess over and worry about.  I know I shouldn’t when that person is outnumbered by far by the rest.  The one this summer session hit me harder than usual, as she said that I came off as rude and unwelcome in my Announcements to my students.  Thus, now she has me paranoid that this is how I came off, and that is why I don’t hear from the other students.  The so-called rude Announcement that I made was that the students should read the syllabus and Announcements before contacting me, as I get irritated when I have to copy and paste the answer back to them from something I have already said.  I didn’t think that was an unreasonable thing to say, and I have sent an Announcement out along that line most semesters that I have taught.  Sigh.  It only takes one comment to get under your skin.

And, finally, the good thing about my course now is that I have it all pretty well set up.  So, it largely runs itself, which allows me more time to actually participate in the classroom rather than spending my time creating and maintaining.  It was a generally pleasant experience overall.

And, with that, I’m out for now.  I just hit 1000 words, which is pretty good for the first time out in a while.  I promise to try and write more.

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About Scott Williams

I am an educator, community-college instructor, thinker, husband, parent of three, student of life, owner of a parrot, player of video games, voracious reader, restless wanderer, and all around guy.

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