It’s incredibly difficult to gauge how much work to assign students and how much work to give yourself. I think you have to be in a place for at least a year or more to get it right.
Here are some things you can do to avoid mid-semester meltdowns.
Ask to see a sampling of syllabi of the classes you teach; how much work do others generally assign? If they’ve been there for awhile, they probably know what works.
Are you teaching on quarters or semesters? Are the courses 4 credits or 3 credits?
Ask how many classes students generally take a semester. If they take four a term, your course will probably need to be a little more rigorous than if they take five or six a term.
Are they on the quarter or semester system? How many students will be in your classes?
My hardest semester of teaching was my first semester in my first full time job. I went from teaching four classes a semester (eight classes a year) to teaching three courses a quarter (nine a year). I also went from teaching 15 students a section to 25.
I made two mistakes.
- I crammed my semester syllabi into quarters.
- I tried to I to do for 25 students what I’d been doing for 15, and I almost died.
Think like a lawyer.
Imagine you’re a lawyer and keep track of your billable hours. The typical college professor puts in 50 to 70 hours a week, so let’s be conservative and say you’re going to work 55 hours a week. (I work more than that.) That’s over nine hours a day, six days a week. Remember that for a college professor, “work” is R, T, S:
Strive for a R/T/S ratio of, let’s say, 30/60/10.
[Where did I get this number, 30/60/10? Why not 40/55/5? The ratio varies depending on the institution, and it's a good idea to ask your colleagues what they think the ratio is vs. what the institution believes it to be. Here's a great link that talks about this. ]
Research 30% of 55 hours 16.5 hours a week 2.75 hours a day
Teaching 60% of 55 hours 33 hours a week 5.5 hours a day
Service 10% of 55 hours 5.5 hours a week less than an hour a day
I hope this breakdown is clarifying to you. It should be.
Over the course of my career, I’ve had a variety of teaching loads.
I’m very glad that I spent two years as a non-tenure track instructor. Once you have a 4/4, you understand how to make the best use of the others. Because, you see, my ratio applies no matter your load, which means–ideally–you’re supposed to spend approximately 33 hours a week on your teaching no matter what your load is.
Talking to Myself
I remember the first time I did the math. It was that horrible semester when I was teaching a 3/3/3 with 25 students per class, and I was dying. Here’s an approximation of the conversation I had with myself.
You’re doing for 25 at College B what you used to do for 15 at College A.
I need to give the students at College B my best.
You need to give them what College B is paying you to give them.
You’re saying I should give these students less than my very best?
No, you should always do the very best you can within that 33-hour time frame. Find other ways to teach well. There are other ways to be an effective teacher of writing without writing a freaking treatise on every single paper or story or poem.
But what about these kids! Don’t they deserve more than that?
Whether or not they knew this consciously or not, your students chose to go to College B, which devotes fewer resources to writing instruction than College A did. It’s not your job to give the students at College B the exact same quality instruction as College A, because this can only be achieved at the cost of your writing time (which is limited) and your personal life (which you need to try harder to have).
You’re telling me to be a shitty teacher.
No, I’m telling you to be a more resourceful and effective and healthy teacher.
You’re saying that students at College B don’t deserve what students at College A get.
Oh, no. Everyone deserves the very best they can get. A great young writer is just as likely to emerge from College B as from College A. The difference is that all students who go to College A will probably get more personalized feedback on their writing, will probably produce more pages, because their instructor has a 2/2 with 15 students per class while you’re at College B with a 3/3/3 at 15/25/25 students per class.
Yes, it does. There’s nothing more important than learning how to write effectively, and schools talk a good game about “rigor,” but there’s only one way to ensure every student leaves college having learned how to write well: classes capped as small as possible, and experienced, well-compensated instructors teaching as few classes as possible, all of which is really, really expensive.
Stop it. No we’re not. Just do the best you can and take care of yourself.