This week:

  • I offer some end-of-the-semester suggestions for documenting your teaching success, reflecting, and taking a break.
  • I let you know about a coming event on inclusive teaching.
  • I share some recent articles on teaching you may have missed.

Semester Wrap-Up

We’ve heard from so many professors who are ready to put this semester behind them. I imagine some might even be tempted to close the book, put it in a vault, and never think about it again.

Before you do, though, consider a few end-of-term processes that might make your life easier — and maybe even a bit happier — come fall.

What follows is meant in that spirit — not a homework assignment for the already overworked, or an assumption that your summer means a real break.

Document: This is probably top of mind for anyone going up for tenure or promotion, or looking to have a contract renewed. But compiling evidence of teaching success is a good idea for everyone, says Andrea Follmer Greenhoot, director of the University of Kansas’ Center for Teaching Excellence. Final grading, Follmer Greenhoot says, is a natural time to “harvest some examples and some broader impressions of how your students did this semester — and how you did.”

Think back to your stated course outcomes, and any particular goals for improvement you had, says Follmer Greenhoot, also a professor of psychology. Then compile related evidence: patterns in students’ work, your general impressions, an analysis of distribution of student scores. It’s smart to do this as the semester wraps up, she adds. Professors may be sure they’ll remember important things in a few months, but “you’re going to forget it,” says Follmer Greenhoot, whose research area is memory. Often professors recall something they wanted to change when they get to that part of the course the next time around, but by then it will probably be too late.

Professors can also set aside strong examples of student work, she says. Just ask students for permission if you want to share them as evidence of your teaching. Follmer Greenhoot’s center has a consent form instructors can use for this purpose.

Another form of evidence, of course, is student feedback. Yes, colleges usually have students complete course evaluations — and evaluations have well-established flaws — but professors might want to ask students their own specific questions to get a sense of whether they’ve met particular goals. Follmer Greenhoot also suggests asking students to write reflections, perhaps in the form of a letter to future students about how to succeed in the course. With permission, she says, professors could share those letters with new students when they next teach the course.

Professors are short on time and low on energy, Follmer Greenhoot says, so it’s important to “make something count in many ways.” The evidence professors compile could be used to advocate for career advancement, collaborate with colleagues teaching the same students, improve their own teaching, and, perhaps, help students reflect and future students prepare.

It can also provide a bit of encouragement. “It’s been a very frustrating year for everybody,” Follmer Greenhoot says. “But it gives you a chance to step back and appreciate what did get accomplished, even if not everything met your expectations.”

Reflect: Take time to process your own feelings about the past semester, or year. Professors have been in crisis mode for a long time now. “We’ve had to sort of put our heads down, and get through, and we’re still putting our heads down, and getting through, and I don’t think there’s really been time or opportunity for us to stop and take stock of where we are,” says Cate Denial, a professor of American history and director of the Bright Institute at Knox College.

About a year ago, Denial, who also works as a pedagogy coach, published on her blog a list of reflection questions professors might want to use. At the time, it seemed higher education might soon return to normal. But after this year’s Delta and Omicron waves, the questions are just as relevant now. They offer anyone looking to work through the last stretch of time a good jumping-off point.

Things still aren’t quite how they were before the pandemic, Denial says, nor will they ever be. Whatever happens from here, she says, “if we don’t spend a moment to think about it in those terms and sort through everything that’s happened, we’re going to drag a whole lot of stuff with us into fall that we don’t need to.”

Rest: Part of rest is getting an adequate amount of sleep. Yes, academe has normalized running on less than enough, but that may be starting to change.

Sarah Rose Cavanagh ran on fumes as a grad student, in her postdoc, as a new mom, and part-way up the tenure track. But then Cavanagh, senior associate director for teaching and learning in the Center for Faculty Excellence at Simmons University, hit her limit. “Screw that!” she remembers thinking. “I’m 36 years old. If I don’t sleep now, when am I ever going to sleep?” She stopped working after 9 p.m. Later she stopped working after dinner.

“I get a billion times more work done than I ever have at any phase in my life,” says Cavanagh, also an associate professor of practice in psychology, “because I’m rested — like rested in terms of sleep — and then I read novels, and I watch TV, and I spend time with my family.”

That increased productivity feels like a magic trick, she says. “The magic trick is that an overtired, stressed-out brain is very inefficient.” The tired brain struggles to summon the right word when writing, she says, and ends up scrolling Twitter, unable to focus on data analysis.

These days Cavanagh includes at least a short unit on sleep in all of her courses.

For professors whose workloads let up at least a bit, she says, summer is a good time to catch up on sleep — and establish better sleep habits for the future, too.

Other kinds of rest also matter. Cavanagh has observed that priorities here are personal. For a friend, exercise is critical. For her, it’s the escape of reading fiction. The idea, she says, is “finding your most nourishing activity — and setting boundaries around that.”

Carving out time for yourself may feel a bit countercultural and, depending on your career situation, risky. But those norms may be shifting, Cavanagh says. Many of the responsibilities academics take on are, in fact, optional. Saying no might be hard, and it might have consequences. But it is possible. And it might be catching on.

Cavanagh was recently in a meeting when a collaborator mentioned she doesn’t work on weekends. When she started a new role, not long ago, her boss explained a culture of minimizing email on nights and weekends. Scientific journals — which rely on the unpaid labor of academics — are having a harder time finding reviewers.

If more people set boundaries and said no, doing so wouldn’t be as difficult. And if more workplaces normalized it, change could come faster still.

What will your summer look like? What support from your college would mean the most? Let me know, at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com, and your example may appear in a future newsletter.

Inclusive Teaching

Next week, I’m hosting a virtual event on inclusive teaching. The first panel will be a discussion with the authors of a forthcoming book on the subject. The second will bring in expertise from a teaching-center leader and a scholar who studies efforts to improve equity in STEM courses. While the event is aimed at an audience of administrators, it should be interesting for professors, too — especially if you’re pushing for institutional support for those teaching practices. Learn more and register here.

ICYMI

  • Kate Eichhorn writes about Chegg’s offer to pay instructors for their course materials and the broader devaluing of academic labor in an essay for The Chronicle Review.
  • Michael Bérubé explains why he’s become more flexible with his students in a recent essay for The Chronicle Review.
  • In his newsletter, Ryan Boyd reflects on student disengagement, the semester’s end, and what instructors are up against.

—Beckie
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