Friday, October 11, 2013

The List

Each fall in my department, we get "the list."  Basically, the list puts down the whole array of courses the department expects to offer in the coming year, and asks us to choose our top choices in each of several categories.

There are the central courses, the ones that every major has to take.

And there are lower-division courses.

And there are upper-division courses.

And then there's composition courses.  We have several composition courses; the form asks us which we would "enjoy" teaching.  So I left that blank.  I don't "enjoy" composition courses.  I do them, and I try to do good work on them, because that's part of the job.  But "enjoy"?  Nope.

I've come to accept the fact that I'm lousy at cutting the special deals some people around here manage.  Usually the special deals have to do with not having to teach composition.  I have one colleague who plans never to teach composition; I don't know if that will work in the long term, but that's the plan (it worked for this year).  I have another colleague who's negotiated her way out of composition for two years for taking on a position that had included a course release, but not composition.

But I've never been good at negotiating these sorts of deals. 

The list is good, though, because it does give us some sense of agency, even though most of the agency comes through hiring.  So, for the lower division classes, I typically put Shakespeare, and an early modern class, and then poetry or drama.  Another Shakespeare person might put women's lit rather than the early modern class, or whatever.  But there are three people who pretty much put Shakespeare at the top of their list.  It only gets weird when someone decides that they really want to teach a course outside the area they were hired for.  So, if I decided that I really wanted to teach the American Ethnic lit courses, that would be weird.  And thus, the three people who will put Shakespeare first.  (Some courses are assigned by area committees, because there's no need to put linguistics courses on the list for everyone when we have few linguists, and they can figure those out between them.)

In a couple of weeks, the schedule committee will get together, and figure out who's going to teach what.  It's usually a pretty good system, though there are times I've found it frustrating.  (I didn't have a Shakespeare class for three semesters in a row, which made me extra cranky.)

Then, once they've done that, we get a piece of paper with our course assignments on it, and get to fill in a "here's the schedule I want" thing.  You get to choose preferred days/times for each of the courses, and preferred room configurations for some (do you want a computer lab?  individual chair/desks?  shared tables?  a circle or rows?).

I really love this aspect of how we assign schedules.  The committee spends pretty much all day going through and figuring out who wants what, when, and works through so that there's a spread of times and days for different courses.  The idea is that we don't teach a bunch of senior seminars all at the same time, so seniors can take several if they need to.  And we don't schedule all the intro creative writing courses at the same day/time, so the student who has a Tuesday/Thursday job schedule can find a section that works.  And the committee assigns our priority classrooms, so we keep them occupied from the start of the day until afternoon.  It's like a massive, multi-dimensional puzzle (people, courses, times, rooms, requirements), and yet after a whole day of work, the committee mostly manages to give us schedules that are pretty close to what we ask for.

(The committee also schedules IAS folks with their choices, to the extent it can, and tries to give humane schedules to the new hires we hope to make.)

All in all, it's a really good system, WAY better than systems where one person decides, based on what's been done for the past 20 years or on their own preconceptions.


  1. Aren't you the Shakespeare professor? Why would they EVER give Shakespeare to someone else?

    I mean, for a while I was the only upper division person at our tiny u, so I was teaching literally EVERYTHING (except Shakespeare, which our guy who was getting his PhD in Shakespeare taught), but now that we have faculty to teach Vic Lit and Chaucer and Cultural Theory, I'm not teaching outside my area.

    I mean, I'm not teaching MY area, either, exactly, very often (Greek and Roman Literature, technically), but at least I'm not teaching Victorian Lit and Chaucer.

  2. We have a similar system, though yours is better, I think. But I absolutely hate the people who get out of teaching comp, especially when they are comp specialists. And they do it by taking tasks with course releases or by insisting they teach courses adjacent to their area. And then they claim to enjoy teaching comp (if that were true, perhaps you should teach more than one section a year and I won't teach 6 sections this year). I really, really hate those people because if everyone taught their share, in our dept., no one would ever have more than 2 a semester--we have a small major. But no, because they work out these deals the rest of us have to pick up the slack and it sucks and I hate them. /rant

  3. We each chat individually with the chair. I find that few colleagues seem to really think about the curriculum as a whole - what's offered by everyone, how this relates to last year's courses and what will likely be on tap next year. How this balances out at every level - we have a dearth of second year courses due to some old ways and it's only now getting addressed after I squawked like mad to the chair about how there were only three of us who had second-year courses to even offer!

    That said, we're at the mercy of the registrar when it comes to timetables. We can suggest and follow prescribed practices and still get slammed in the face as when we ended up with no courses at 10-11:30 (the single most popular timeslot on campus) because the registrar apparently felt it was easier to make a historian move than deal with the people in other departments!

  4. Everyone in our department *supposedly* teaches comp. But yes -- the people who were hired as comp/rhet specialists almost all have course releases so they can do very important other things, or they are teaching upper level classes in the rhet/comp major.

    Which means English professors (many of whom have no real training at all in the practice of teaching composition) end up teaching two and three sections of comp.

    This counts, in my opinion, as teaching outside our area. It's also really infuriating, as Tree notes, because the Rhet/Comp people were hired, at least in part, because they claimed to be so eager to teach comp, and now almost none of them actually teach any comp.

  5. And...I'm exaggerating, of course. That's not all of the Rhet/comp people, only a few of them, and in fact it's only the lower level English professors who end up teaching heavy comp loads.

    Senior faculty (me) only teach heavy comp loads when I get suckered into it.

    But I feel deeply inept at the teaching of comp, since I really have no idea what I'm doing in the comp classroom, despite the fact that I've been doing it for 20+ years, and that does make me hate doing it, more and more each year.