Semester End Reflection Leaves More Questions than Answers

This is a meta-reflection rather than my more traditional course reflection.

Well, I’m embarrassed to write it out loud, but I think one of the biggest things that I learned this Fall is that after 12 years of teaching these wonderful students, the process of taking my teaching from a B+ to A level takes just as much work as it does to get it to a B+ level to begin with.  In other words, if it takes me 10 hours a week to get one course to a B+ level, it probably takes me 20 hours a week to get it to where I really feel good about it. I’m embarrassed because let’s face it: B+ isn’t good enough.

Or is it?

That’s a really tough question for me that I just don’t know the answer to. For my students this semester, B+ was good enough. They learned what they needed to learn, I *think* they have a really good chance at retaining what they need to retain, they had a great attitude about the work, they were open to my leadership, they took ownership when asked, they developed skills that I think are important for musicians, and many of them loved me to a point that was embarrassing. Part this success probably comes from the way the class was cobbled together (see here for a summary)–the cards were already stacked towards creating fertile ground for bonding opportunities.

How important is that extra 100% effort on my part?

For me, it is part of what makes me happiest.  Teaching well and having the time to do my best is a luxury I didn’t appreciate until I started juggling a massive number of other things at the same time.

For most of the students, what I was able to accomplish was more than sufficient. For all of my students, I am incredibly proud of what they learned while maintaining enthusiasm for the subject that they were so worried about on Day 1.

For two of my 17 students, however, I think I could have made a difference in their academic lives if I had had more time to invest in them. For one, it might have resulted in passing the course. For the other, it might have provided a kick in the pants that would make the rest of college a little bit easier. That’s depressing.  Two is a lot.  It’s not that I didn’t try, but it’s that I could’ve tried harder and perhaps my efforts would have been more fruitful if I had tried harder to get these students into my office for some very honest conversations about ability, work ethic, student skills, etc. (on the flip side, through my deanly work I made a difference in far more than two students’ lives, albeit in a far less personal way…).

I remain troubled about what this realization of the pay-off for my investment of time means. When I return to teaching full-time, should I put those 10 hours a week into my research instead of my teaching? I sure do like putting them into my teaching, but it’s probably not going to make a long-term difference to my career (and my career goals) if I put them into teaching.

Does that mean I need to re-evaluate my career goals? (ya know, full professorship, maybe doing a visiting professorship abroad with the family in tow, etc.)

A wise colleague spoke of how awkward the 12-year point of an academic career is. Indeed, this moment of my career leaves me with far more questions than answers…

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