By the bog of cats

Three weeks into the school year, I am surprised and troubled by how much less focused on my teaching I am than in previous years.  People tell me that the split focus is a normal part of beginning to serve as department chair, that the kids don’t notice as much as I do, and that I am probably doing a better job than I think.

But still.

I’d probably be having a rough ride even if I weren’t department chair, because I am teaching five classes with three preps.  I have a total of 86 students, which isn’t terrible, but it’s certainly more than last year, when I taught four classes, two preps and had 63 students one semester and 56 the next.

So take five classes, three preps, 86 students, collaborating with co-teachers in three different courses (one of those as lead teacher with someone who hasn’t taught the course before) and add:

  • The need to be available and willing to listen and respond pretty much anytime someone in my department has a question or an issue (while starting to integrate my new role into my existing relationships with people–that is, being aware that I’m responding as a person with authority, not just as a colleague with empathy, and that people will hear my responses, suggestions, and now, directions differently than they used to).
  • A new availability/exposure to other departments and administrative units of the school: coming in on conversations I haven’t been privy to before, being asked to approve student placements; the meetings, oh the meetings.  I’m on three committees I wasn’t on before (curriculum, department chairs, instructional technology).
  • Laying the groundwork to conduct formal evaluations–having informal chats with people, observing a selection of classes to develop a sense of our range of teaching practices, reviewing past evaluations.
  • Sometimes-unexpected new tasks; some that are expected but not habitual yet (anticipating our next department meeting, planning it, sending out an agenda in time for people to think about it).
  • Helping one returning and two new teachers get settled, doing early informal observations of the new teachers, developing relationships with them.

It’s hard to express how much time and bandwidth these things consume.  On Friday, I forgot that my AP Lit class was having a quiz; it would have taken me about twenty minutes to write the quiz, but I only remembered it as we were waiting for Orsino’s* class to finish up and kids were arriving and asking me questions about the quiz material.  We went on and had a pretty good class for the last period on a Friday–I had prepared the right thing, just got caught up in doing that and overlooked the quiz part–but it was a pretty monumental thing to flake on.  (Of course, they loved it.)

What they won’t love, though, is if I can’t keep up with the grading, so I’m going in to campus today (Sunday) to prep and grade.  I haven’t done too badly so far, but the pile is growing fast.  It’s early in the year, I have given a lot of shorter writing assignments to my AP juniors and regular seniors, and I have a paper coming in Tuesday from my AP seniors–it would be great to have the decks cleared for that.  The Snork Maiden is going on her class retreat for two nights, which may give me just enough extra time to catch up on everything and grade the AP paper.

And in six weeks, Gamma will be back and I’ll hand two classes/one prep/41 students over to her!  My student load will plummet to 45, my teaching load to three classes, two preps–which is significantly lower than average and will give me considerably more time for all the new responsibilities.  Also for formal evaluations, which will need to start happening right away.  I’m going to give Gamma a new pseudonym, too–hers dates from this post almost five years ago, and Alpha has been gone for four–but out of superstition, I think I’ll wait until she returns.

*Orsino is Ph.D. Guy’s new pseudonym.


One response to this post.

  1. Amen, sister! I’m feeling good about department chair business, but I’m also realizing that chair stuff is top priority for me these days, whereas my teaching has usually been top priority. Classes are still going well (perhaps a lesson in and of itself), but I am falling behind in grading, which is stressing me out. Must catch up this week!


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