September 21, 2011

The quarter begins

So, I didn't start teaching this week after all. The professor canceled sections at the last minute -- we didn't even know until he made the announcement in lecture. He said he had realized there was no point in holding sections since we hadn't covered any material yet.

I was a little bit disappointed. I had written a whole speech for my students that was meant to inspire them to come to my office hours when they don't understand the material. I will have to deliver it next week.

Instead, I spent the afternoon classroom shopping. My first section is supposed to begin immediately after lecture on Wednesdays, but the classroom they gave me was at least 15 minutes away. I don't want to waste valuable instruction time traversing the campus, so I requested a room change.

The registrar's office gave me four options. I ordered a smoothie and took a leisurely walk around campus, visiting each of the classrooms. I assessed the size and layout of each room, and when I found one that I liked, I timed the walk from the lecture hall to the room -- just five minutes. Much better.

Sure, I could have spent that time on other things, but I think the right classroom is important. If there is too much distance between the instructor and the students, it can feel like lecturing, and they don't participate as much. And if the chairs don't move, I can't order them to form circles and groups for section activities. The classroom that I chose is small with moveable chairs.

Nobody can say that I don't care about my students.

In other teaching news, we lost a TA due to under-enrollment, so now there are only two of us. I knew this would happen, because I had been watching the numbers, and all summer I was afraid that I would get booted. Thankfully, someone else got moved instead.

So I can finally let myself get excited that I'm teaching statistics. I love the material, and I'm excited about teaching methods concepts and problem solving instead of just trying to start discussion about reading that most of them didn't even do. I'm also excited about the opportunity to feel useful: My students are going to need a lot of help with R, and I think it's going to make me feel like I have an actual purpose.

And most importantly, teaching this class is an opportunity to finally put my horrible methods comprehensive exam to rest. The comments said, among other things, that I was not qualified to teach even basic statistics to undergrads. I know that I have been assigned to this class because the professor believes that I can do it, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to prove that I can be a competent statistics instructor. So I'm incredibly motivated. Even though I've been a distracted mess in general, I'm very eager to work hard on this class. Nervous, too, because I want so badly to get it right.

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