Between semesters, I sit down with my course load and determine exactly where I want each class to go. The planning phase, for me, is the most stressful but also the most fun. I can work out the arc of topics I want to cover, blending each one seamlessly into the next so that it all flows into one easy progression of knowledge. Once I have the general roadmap, I fill in the stops: the week by week subtopics to get us from place to place. Then I can set up each lecture’s framework. I like to be organized and it helps me to have a system like this; it allows for flexibility within each lecture but also provides me with structure so that I don’t get derailed or bogged down in one subject and not get anywhere with the students. It also enables me to choose textbooks that enhance the lectures effectively. I always try to order one book for each class that will be useful both in class and as a solid reference on the topic that they can use later in their programming or IT fields.Although, with the rate that technology has been advancing, this has been harder and harder to do.
And then there are the students. Ah, the students. I love the beginning of a semester. The smell of fresh textbooks, the classroom packed full of endless potential and enthusiasm. There are typically some returning students that are familiar faces but there is always a sea of new ones to learn. Many have no impression of me at all yet; they size me up, ready to decide if they will learn anything at all from me or if I will be a boring windbag with nothing of value to say. I like to think that I often surprise them and they decide the class will be worthwhile. I am not saying that out of conceit, either. I have one of the higher student retention rates in the department. Once the students listen to my first few lectures, they tend to stay around until the end of the term. One of my colleagues claims that is it because I get the more interesting topics and that there is some favoritism, but he is old and has not kept up with new technologies and advances. In the computer science field, that is the kiss of death. So he is stuck with the intro classes, teaching students what mousepads are and other such nonsense the majority of them already know. These children have grown up with computers and the internet, they know more than he does! He should be grateful—his students cannot drop his class, they are stuck there for a graduation requirement. He always has a built in audience who has to at least attempt to pass the course, or they are doomed to repeat it!
Yes, the dawn of the semester is my favorite. The students are not yet bogged down with assignments coming at them from all sides or exhausted from all-nighters. Their enthusiasm has not yet been tamped down by poor grades or challenging assignments that they cannot understand. What a glorious time of year!