Too Many Courses, Too Few Friends: Thriving as First-Year Faculty in a New Environment

A year ago I was wrestling with a large roll of orange bubble wrap and a faulty tape dispenser as my partner and I prepared to relocate from Connecticut to Nebraska. We had been living in our quiet corner of New England long enough to gain a large circle of friends but we knew absolutely no one in the Midwest. I was also wrestling with syllabi, assignment prompts, and textbook orders as I braced myself for the teaching load at my new institution. The scale of my professional life was about to shift drastically as I transitioned from teaching a few sections of composition as a graduate student at a large public university to developing three different literature courses per semester as an assistant professor at a small liberal arts college. Many of us will meet similar professional and personal challenges as junior faculty: as I reflect on my experiences, I hope that some of the strategies I have relied on will also prove useful to you. Specifically, this post will suggest possible approaches to handling course preparation as a new faculty member and re-building your social life in an unfamiliar environment. Continue reading

Writing Lessons: Practicing What We Preach

(Originally published here on Inside Higher Ed.)

As educators, we often lament the quality of our students’ writing and ponder how we might support their writing development. To that end, I recently attended an interdisciplinary pedagogical conference themed around improving student writing. One of the conference’s main objectives was to remind all of us, regardless of field, that students need our help with their writing and that we cannot burden English departments with the sole responsibility for shaping it.

The research and presentations were geared toward student writing, but I started to ask myself why I couldn’t also heed some of those lessons and be my own writing coach. Why had I failed to see that so many of the tools I use as an educator could transfer neatly to my own writing? Continue reading

Making the Most of the Summer

(Originally published here on Inside Higher Ed.)

This time a year ago, I finished my degree and headed into the summer unsure of what to do with myself. It was only in hindsight that I thought critically about how to invest one’s time and energy over the summer. (Those thoughts are documented here.) This year, I’m taking a more proactive approach and creating a plan for the summer before it begins. Here, I describe the decisions I’ve made in terms of my teaching, structuring my time for research, and reading for professional enrichment. Continue reading

A Tool Kit for Teaching About Research

(Originally published here on Inside Higher Ed.)

In a previous article, “Prepping a Course I’ve Never Taught Before,” I wrote how I decided to engage my students in a semester-long project that would expose them to research in my field. My thought process was that I want students to see that higher education is about learning to ask meaningful questions and solving the puzzles that are absent from their textbook. In this essay, I will elaborate on my approach for teaching research, and offer some tools and suggestions for doing so. Continue reading

Prepping a Course I’ve Never Taught Before

(Originally published here on Inside Higher Ed.)

In my department, the courses that I get to teach depend heavily on registration. Some of the course offerings that fulfill general education requirements are stable from semester to semester; others that cater to students who seek a major or minor in my field fluctuate significantly.

This spring, my department chair asked me if I’d be willing to teach a specific course this fall because our department needed to offer it and there really wasn’t anyone else to teach it. The course already existed in the university course catalog, and the faculty member who has taught it has now left the university. It is outside of my area, but I’m agreeing to do it anyway. As far as a starting point goes, I don’t have much, and the course title means very little to me.

Therefore, I’m working through how to prep a course that is outside my area of expertise, that I’ve never previously taught and that, to be honest, I would never have suggested offering in the first place. I’ve decided to take on the challenge by asking myself a series of key questions. Continue reading

Teaching 2.0

(Originally published here on Inside Higher Ed.)

Congratulations! As junior professors, we’ve made it through the fall semester. Now it’s time to start thinking about adapting our teaching for next term.

If you feel your teaching during the fall term was lackluster, you aren’t alone; I admit that my teaching was something akin to survival mode. I had teaching experience when I started my job, but I had never juggled multiple courses, right after a move, while trying to get adjusted to a new environment and new professional relationships. Even before I received my teaching evaluations, I knew there was room for improvement, and my evaluations confirmed that suspicion. Our institution uses raw scores, so it’s difficult to know exactly what I should have done better. While the scores came back solidly in the “good” range, I’d like to see something more like “good/great” next term. Continue reading