Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Teacher's Life

After a short two week break, I am now teaching four sections of English during the summer session. I was hoping that one of my classes wouldn’t fill and that my boss would cancel the course because of the lack of enrollment. During the last hour of open enrollment, the eighth person enrolled, causing the class to make. I had the option of teaching the class pro-rated, which means that the amount of money I would normally get for teaching the class would be divided eight ways, and I would receive seven-eighths of that money as my salary.

I will be earning about a third of what I earn in a year during this summer. My wife wants me to promise that I won’t work myself too hard; last summer I ended up getting hospitalized after experiencing several bouts of fever and vomiting.

Although it may seem as though all of my classes are small, I am actually teaching a total of seventy-four students. Some of them are currently overwhelmed by the technology that accompanies online learning; some of them are also intimidated by the intense pace of summer writing classes. It is quite possible that anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five students will drift away over the next six weeks or so. A few have already dropped.

I am currently experiencing the last few days of relative quiet before my first sets of essays arrive. Once they start arriving, there will be a constant round of grading and returning essays. Right before the semester started last week, I was up till dawn several nights in a row as I got my online classes up and running. This preparation includes revising the syllabus, altering the dates in those pages in Course Content, revising the assignments, making adjustments here and there to ease comprehension of any one assignment, and updating the calendar within the course. This preparation probably took about eight hours per course. Two of my courses are cross-listed, which means that the students from two sections are combined into one course, so I essentially had three preparations when I was still exhausted from the previous semester and could have thought of anything else I would have rather been doing.

One of the biggest frustrations of online teaching is how the students enroll in the course and don't do the required reading, choosing to e-mail me instead. They come up with excuses like “I couldn’t find what I’m supposed to do” or “I don’t understand exactly what is due now?” These kinds of messages require that I inform them where to look for the information they apparently missed the first time. Although the homepage tells the students to read the syllabus first, some of them manage to overlook the link on the homepage that leads directly to the syllabus. Even my boss admits that students enroll in online classes for the wrong reasons. The students think that taking an online course will be easier than going to class three days a week; they don’t recognize how much more demanding online learning can be because the learning styles that an onground course incorporates don’t apply when the students are only interacting with the computer screen and the keyboard.