Dispatches from Adjunct Land: Starting a New Class

As a child, I hated beginnings. So much was unknown: What would the teacher be like, the other students? What would we learn? I always longed for October, when routines had firmly taken hold. But now I prefer those beginnings because they are so full of hope.

Where I work, new classes begin every two weeks because my school doesn’t follow a traditional schedule. Thus, a new class just started for me on December 2nd. Winter Break will start once the third week of classes ends, and we’ll return to week four in January. Beginnings, then, can happen at any time, not just in January, August or September. And so can middles and endings. Bet let’s focus on those beginnings.

When I first began teaching, I still hated the first few weeks of classes. I’m terrible at connecting names with faces, so it was a scramble to quickly learn to identify everyone. You have to work to establish who you are and why the class matters. I mean, that’s still the case, but I’ve come to embrace those beginnings.

I have come to love both the routine of starting a class and the unknowns. The first week has a certain rhythm: discussing policies, getting a feel for the students and their needs, and laying the groundwork for the next nine weeks.

But those unknowns are beautiful. For a brief moment, everyone has unlimited enthusiasm and potential.

For now, I teach online, and that newness and uncertainty of “Day One” lasts for an entire week. Students are not required to “attend” class on the first day of the week, and because many of them have only finished their previous classes the night before, students take advantage of the policy by taking a few days off. I don’t blame them. But it’s weird to enter the classroom and have just one or two students posting, and to have to repeat the greetings every day.

Schedules keep me on track: Sunday, I set up the course (syllabus, calendar, greetings), Mondays I discuss participation and attendance, Tuesday is for technology, Wednesday is for additional resources, and so on. I have no way of knowing who reads my posts or downloads my materials. I don’t want to overwhelm students (the classroom is set up like an online discussion board, so it might be overwhelming to log on and see ten or twenty new, bolded posts), but I want to make sure they have all the information they need. As with so many other aspects of teaching, there is no way to please/reach/help everyone, and I have gotten complaints that I both share too much and too little information.

Preparing the syllabus and other first week documents is nerve-wracking. No matter how carefully I check, typos get through. I can list a policy ten times, and the one time I write it incorrectly, students zero in on the mistake. I mean, I want mistakes brought to my attention so I can fix them, but if I repeat the same information in nine places, the one type is probably not correct.

The first week is fun and easy. It builds on the work from their previous classes (“What would you do differently on the final project you just completed?”) It tries to create a scaffolding for the rest of the course (“What time management techniques will you use to help you stay on track?”) There are no big questions yet.

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Natasha

History. Hindi cinema. Hugging cats.

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