Having a second is completely different from the first

Feb 11 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Last year around this time I was frantic. Things in the lab were ramping up in a big way, I was trying to get a handle on juggling everything that comes with this job, I was writing a few new proposals and I was teaching my first real undergrad class. That class was my nemesis. Not the students, but the slides. Oh, those fucking slides. And the grading. And organizing the lab. Etc.

As some background, I took over an existing class and was generously given all the materials from the previous person who taught the class. This was a tremendous help, but also skewed my perspective on how much work the class was going to be. I figured I could teach it roughly the same way that it had been in the first year, with a few tweaks, and see what worked and what didn't. In the following year I could revamp some things and everything would be great. I was wrong. Very wrong.

By week two I knew I was screwed. It turned out that the previous person and I just lecture very differently and I had to dump all of the old slides. I also changed a major component to the lab before thinking hard about how that would affect parts of the class, which meant I created a bunch of fires I then had to put out. If I hadn't had an extremely competent TA the whole thing would have been a train wreck.

The class took a heavy toll on me, especially when I got behind on things and was facing 10 slides at 11:00 pm for the next morning's 75 minute lecture. I tried finding ways to have the students to more during the class, but as a new teacher, I had a hard time finding the right balance to keep them interested. Lack of sleep and the constant feeling of under performing was rough. By the end of the semester I was oatmeal.

The good news is that this year has been very different. Rather than feeling like a constant struggle, I've been able to make adjustments to the course and the slides far more easily with the experience of last year behind me. Even with the minor addition of a second class for a short period of time, I still feel like I'm on top of everything that needs doing. Granted, I don't have a ton of time for much else while teaching both classes and I have a few things that need writing, which are getting back burnered. But at least I have the time to make those things happen and it is not a choice between not sleeping and dealing with the writing.

After a very painful initial introduction into teaching, the second go-round has been much smoother. I know everyone says the third time is when you can shift into cruise control, but the difference between this year and last has made me think "Alright, I can do this." rather than "OMG MYHEADGONNAASSPLOAD", which I was dangerously close to last year.

So, if you are currently struggling with your first, just know that the second one is easier.

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