Is summer really more than half over?

Do I really go “back to school” for the fall semester in about a month?

I’ve been so quiet, readers. I’m sorry. However, we all know that summer is the time when academics stop doing anything related to work or school (okay, maybe not). I made some major life changes this summer that I’m super excited about:

  • I interviewed for and accepted a full-time (non-tenure track) teaching position.
  • I moved to an adorable house that is still not quite put together.
  • I received an award for my dedication to first-year student success.
  • I went on a wonderful vacation to Grand Junction and Palisade, Colorado.
  • And, oh yeah, I started teaching.

My university has a program for students who are conditionally admitted that I was given the opportunity to teach in. We started last Monday, and while it’s a ton of work, I’m really having an excellent time.

Students take an introductory writing course that focuses on rhetorical modes, some study- and life-skills courses, and do a variety of activities meant to help them acclimate to college life. If they pass their English course, they are admitted to the university for the fall. If they do not, they are “referred” to another institution (typically a state-wide community college).

The program is slightly totalitarian, and in that way it’s forcing me to try out a different teaching style than I am used to. I can see the benefits of this, though. For example, I typically don’t say anything if students sleep in class. I tell them on the first day that they are adults, can make their own choices, and can face the consequences. I will not “police” their bad behavior so long as it’s only affecting them. In my three years as a teacher, I’ve yet to have anyone sleep during class. That being said, I do notice poor behavior, and I take this into account when I’m figure out participation grades or final grades. In the end, these poor decisions do end up drastically affecting an individual’s grades, whether it’s because they lost a lot of participation points or because they did poorly on assignments and activities because they aren’t paying attention in class. “You or someone you know is paying good money for your education, so don’t waste it,” I try to tell them.

But it’s just not me to stand over their shoulders and look for bad behavior. This summer has challenged that for a number of reasons, the most prominent of which is that these students are paying a highly discounted rate for this education. Grants and other funding makes up for most of the budget for teaching this course, and students are paying something like $300 of the overall $1500+ per-student cost. Because of this, the program admin really want us to make sure students are making good choices, including kicking them out of class for sleeping and not allowing them to use headphones during class. I find myself paying just a little more attention to their computer screens as we work in class and being more aware of whether they are potentially distracting others through side conversations. I still don’t feel like I’m a “policing” kind of teacher, but I think that these little changes are for the positive. I work with many students throughout the year who may need that additional boost to make the right choices, and even spot checking can help them with that.

Overall, I’m really enjoying this opportunity. I know we’re only a week in, but my students are mostly well-behaved, work extremely hard during class, and are consistently engaged in class discussions. It’s nice to be able to focus on just a few students at once (because only having 20 students to work with and 20 papers at a time to grade makes a world of difference from even 25). It’s also making me feel more confident in my teaching abilities—Did I worry that taking just a couple of months out of the classroom might make me a worse teacher? No. But you never know how students will react to you, and I feel more comfortable in the classroom right now than I have in the past (not that I was ever uncomfortable). It’s nice to feel like I’m doing well at what I love to do.