By Katie Maki, University of Florida
The ECF’s overarching focus typically centers around the research-related activities of academia. Although this month’s blog post is seemingly focused on teaching responsibilities, in actuality, streamlining teaching practices is extremely important for research productivity. We all have a finite amount of time in the work week to accomplish our research, teaching, and service responsibilities, and thus, unbound time spent on one area of work can come at the expense of others. Systematically organizing your teaching practices is therefore imperative to ensuring that you maintain your research productivity to meet your university’s expectations for reappointment or tenure and promotion. The purpose of this month’s post is to discuss strategies for streamlining teaching practices so as not to compromise research productivity.
Be Proactive with Scheduling
As an academic, it is very easy to spend a significant amount of time on teaching responsibilities whether you teach four classes each semester or one class each semester. The accountability of your teaching practices is built in each week – your students will be waiting for you to show up to class to teach and, likely in all fairness, they will continue to ask you when you are going to grade their assignment until you do it. Thus, structuring your time around those immediate and concrete teaching demands can often take precedence over your other position responsibilities. Personally, I could easily spend two days a week on a single course because it always seems like there is so much important content to cover in class with students. However, doing so is not likely to result in a class session that is two times as good as if I spent one day on the course, and it will definitely eat away at my research productivity. Compared to teaching where you will obtain routine feedback, the institutional check-ins regarding research productivity will be far less frequent (e.g., yearly, every three years) and therefore your productivity is dependent upon your ability to manage and prioritize your responsibilities.
Not everyone has the option of indicating a preference for when their classes are held, but if you do, don’t be afraid to ask for your classes to be held on specific days and at a time of day that work well for you. I like teaching in the mid- to late afternoon because I am usually pretty tired after teaching and then I can call it a day without negatively impacting my productivity (or feeling that reoccurring academic guilt of “I should be writing.”). Currently, I teach a three-hour graduate level class one day per week, which also allows me to designate that day as my teaching day. On my teaching day, I read, prepare presentations and activities, hold office hours, and grade student work. For me, setting aside one day each week as my teaching day helps me to ensure that I don’t spend 50% of my work week on teaching responsibilities because doing so will undermine my ability to meet the research expectations of my university. Of course, different universities have different teaching loads and not everyone will be able to set up their schedule so that all of their teaching responsibilities fall on one day. Thus, scheduling when you complete your teaching activities (e.g., preparation, grading, meetings with students) each week is important to ensure that you don’t inadvertently sacrifice research productivity.
Engage in Advanced Planning
There are times when I find course preparation to be challenging and somewhat daunting. There is always a lot of material to cover over the course of a semester and it is sometimes difficult to know how best to deliver certain content. That said, one approach to course preparation that I have found particularly helpful is to use my current teaching to help prepare for future teaching. Of course, it may seem obvious that when prepping for a class in the future you would rely on previous material. However, in this case, I’m referring to prepping now for the next semester you teach the class. This kind of advanced planning may make your head spin, and honestly, it does not come naturally to me, but when I make myself plan ahead, it has also been invaluable. If I made you sweat thinking about next semester or even next year, the good news is that advanced planning does not have to be intensive. Spending 10 to 15 minutes reflecting on the previous class session can be a meaningful way to prepare for the next round of teaching.
To do so, at the end of each class, make note of what worked well and what could be improved. If you are like me, you find yourself exhausted after teaching a three-hour class and the last thing you want to do is spend more time on class when it ends, especially if you teach in the late afternoon or evening. But future you will be very happy when you teach the class again and you have notes about how to make the class better. I use my course syllabus to make note of the successes and challenges during each class session by inserting comments and using track changes in the syllabus document. I make note of the content that seemed particularly challenging for students and the activities that worked well and the activities that fell flat. These notes are really helpful for planning activities in future semesters, but I also keep in mind that the same activity may be more or less successful with a future cohort of students. I have used the same activity with one cohort very successfully and the next year encountered significant challenges with the activity with a different cohort. However, making specific note of these difficulties allows me to make revisions to course activities as I get to know future cohorts’ student personalities and background knowledge.
I also get feedback from students on course readings and note the readings students found particularly challenging, the readings students really enjoyed, and the readings they found most helpful. Although I don’t always exclude readings in the future that students found challenging or didn’t like, it is still helpful to have insight into student perspectives and be prepared for how future students might interact with course readings. There have been many days at the end of class when I have convinced myself I would remember any challenges the students and I encountered when prepping the next semester. I am sure no one is surprised that while I sometimes remembered that there was an issue, I typically can’t. Consequently, it is important to indicate not only that something did not work well, but to be specific about the challenge (e.g., activity directions were confusing to students, students were unfamiliar with reading methodology, my difficulty concisely explaining specific class topic or idea).
Teaching is of course an important part of our positions as faculty in the field of school psychology. As an applied field, many of our students will go on to work in settings supporting children who demonstrate a range of academic, social, behavioral, and emotional needs. I find teaching to be one of the most rewarding parts of my job in academia. Working with students is fun and it is really heartening to see how excited they get about being a future school psychologist. Thus, the weight of what we teach students and the experiences with which we provide them can hardly be understated. However, this weight and time we spend on teaching preparation are not necessarily synonymous. Being strategic with how you prepare a course for the semester and your teaching on a weekly basis are important for supporting both your effectiveness and efficiency in teaching.
Do you have other suggestions for how to maximize your teaching productivity? Post your comments below.