New term resolutions

When classes resume, those good intentions resurface. Even the ones, says Carrie Dunn, that never seem to make it into practice

October 2, 2008

The new year is an irrelevance for me. Simply turning over a new leaf and promising to become a better person because you're putting up a new calendar is pointless.

It is in October that I find myself making resolutions that - the same as those made at new year - I never stick to. I have such good intentions; but once teaching kicks in, all my vows fall by the wayside.

In an ideal world, I'd want to learn my students' names in the first week - or at least some of them. It's simply good practice, and I've been told it's certainly doable - it's even been mentioned in my appraisals as a target - and I've got some fantastic ice-breaking exercises to do with the students in the first week.

The problem is that I have so many students that a one-hour seminar isn't long enough to get to know them, particularly when everyone's either so overexcited or so nervous in the first week of term that they can't concentrate fully - and that includes me. And you really can't extend the getting-to-know-you shenanigans to a second week when there's so much work to get through.

I also want to remember to file all my lecture notes after every session, complete with my finely crafted PowerPoint slides. Yes, they're all stored on my USB stick and backed up on my hard drive. But I should do something useful with the printouts instead of shoving them into my bag once class is over and then getting upset because they are crumpled and ripped, or putting them in my in tray with every intention of later putting them into a folder, but actually leaving them there to fester until the end of term.

Imagine the beauty of a whole repository of well-written lectures and their aesthetically pleasing accompanying visual aids. If a colleague wanted to know what I had done in a session, all I would have to do would be to flick open a drawer and extract the crisp, clean sheets, rather than emailing the document over.

I want to think of a whole set of brilliant new assignment questions for every single module instead of relying on the tried, tested and trusted ones. If anyone has any advice on how to force inspiration to strike, do let me know. It's been too many years of recycling two of last year's questions, modifying two more and racking my brains to think of two more, complete with marking scheme to hand over to colleagues and moderators.

I also want to save time when marking by bringing a rubber stamp into use. Bear with me - this one's probably a bit controversial, but it's grounded in good sense. I waste too much time and ink scrawling "Where is your evidence for this statement?", "Reference, please" and "Please remember to run a spellcheck before submission" on every batch of essays. If I could just get a rubber stamp, it would make the whole process much quicker. I'm not sure my department would approve of that, though.

And I wish I could impart a couple of pieces of wisdom to my first-year students, who seem to think that Freshers' Week will tell them everything they need to know about the university experience.

I would like them to know that they do, in fact, have to read the books on the reading list - hence its name. Get the books and read them. We don't put them together for fun; they are genuinely useful for people studying on the course.

I would like them to know that the first year does, in fact, count towards their degree, because if they don't pass it, they won't be allowed to progress to the second year. And lazy students, even if they scrape through their fresher year, always have their cards marked. Lecturers talk, you know.

And finally, I would like them to know that they do, in fact, have to provide evidence for extenuating circumstances. I am always vaguely upset and sickened when students claim bereavement or illness and then it's proved that it was a convenient lie. Universities in general, and tutors specifically, are usually supportive if a student has a genuine problem with meeting a deadline, but please don't take advantage of that.

The hopes and aspirations of a frantically busy academic may be destined to be thwarted, but it's good to have goals. Wish me luck - and enjoy the new academic year, everyone!

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