Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Ask the Administrator: CC Teaching Loads
A returning correspondent writes:
In my CC system, faculty members can teach a 5-5 or a 4-4 load. If we choose the 4-4 load, we do service work in place of the 5th course. I'm in English, and I'm gratefully taking the 4-4 option, to stay sane with fewer papers to grade. But how unusual is this arrangement? How many other CCs will allow a 4-4 load? I live in an expensive state and would love to move to a cheaper one, so I'm wondering, if I am able to get another job at a CC, how likely is it I'll be teaching a 5-5?
And how do English teachers manage to teach 5 courses a semester, many or all of which are writing-intensive?
I read somewhere that academics speak of research opportunities and teaching loads. That stuck with me.
Calculating workloads is notoriously difficult even across a single college – comparing across systems or states is that much harder.
At my cc, and at every cc in my state, the standard load is 30 credit hours per year. In disciplines like English or history, that works out to a 5-5 load. (3 credits per class equals ten classes per year.) In math, most of the courses are 4 credits, so you wind up with fewer courses over the year. In disciplines that distinguish 'classroom' from 'lab' time, lab time is calculated at a set fraction, for reasons nobody has ever cogently explained to me. (Worse, the fraction varies from department to department, based mostly on who was on the union negotiating team at the time.)
At Proprietary U, the standard load was 45 credits per year (3 4-month semesters, 15 credits each; it was a cc schedule without summers off, essentially.) There, they did something I haven't seen anywhere else: they assigned lab time for composition classes. A composition class met for three classroom hours a week, plus two lab hours. Lab hours got half-credit, so the professor would get 4 credits (3 plus 2x1/2). That wasn't true of other courses in the humanities and social sciences, which were the traditional three credits each. It led to some very weird schedules, and a constant low-level “I have it worse” carping from both sides.
Composition lab was a weird experience. You herded the students into a computer lab, and tried vainly to keep them on task while they used the internet for heaven knows what. (I tried a few group-writing exercises, with decidedly mixed results.) I didn't care for it, but I didn't fight it, since the sections held 35 students apiece and I didn't relish the thought of teaching five of them. At my cc, composition is the traditional three credits, but the sections are smaller (capped at 25, as opposed to 35). This leads to the predictable carping from folks in other disciplines, where the caps are higher, but the difference in grading loads is pretty apparent to anybody who chooses to look.
'Release time,' or credit towards the annual total that you get for tasks other than teaching, is budgeted pretty strictly. Department chairs get some, as do 'coordinators' of various programs, but that's about it. I've never heard of a blanket, college-wide option of 'service' credits – it sounds like a good deal to me!
I'll ask readers who teach full-time at cc's to share what their teaching loads are. My impression is that 15 credits per semester is pretty much the industry standard, but I'll admit that's just an impression. Anybody who works at a school on a trimester or quarter system is invited to explain how that parcels out, since I honestly don't know.
I remember being told in grad school that anything more than a 3-2 load was unconscionable. Lacking a frame of reference, I believed it. Looking back, it was pretty clear that they were assuming fairly rigorous research requirements for tenure, which is not the case at cc's. A close friend of mine in the Midwest told me that this past Spring he only taught one course, and had a grad student do the grading. I literally can't imagine. In my time at Proprietary U, I taught one course per semester while deaning, and did all my own grading. Different worlds.
I don't know how English professors can grade five sections of composition per semester, year after year, and not burn out. Wise and worldly readers – any useful survival tips there?
Depending on how onerous those 'service' expectations are, it sounds like you have a reasonably good deal on workload, by cc standards. (Salary, of course, is another issue.) I'd be surprised if you found a much cushier deal on workload at another cc, though readers are invited to correct me if I'm wrong.
Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.
I'm pretty sure our English faculty get some credit for working in the writing center, but I'm not sure how that is calculated.
In terms of grading, disciplines like philosophy got shafted a long time ago. Our Intro to Philosophy, Ethics and World Religions classes have caps of 50. The thing is that those should be nearly as writing intensive as comp I. The only way to properly assess philosophical knowledge is by using writing, but it doesn't happen nearly as often as it should.
A semester teaching four different science courses - and doing prep for four DIFFERENT labs a week - is, in retrospect, something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.
I heard surprisingly little "I have it worse" carping when I was teaching at the CC, because everybody had it bad.
Ha, that would be me! Twenty years way up north and counting. And I'm no burnout! Things I do:
* I don't red pencil papers in any detail. I talk to every student about every paper, so I read papers with the eventual conversation in mind about what is good and what "needs work" as we weaselly English types like to euphemize. Conversation lightens my load.
* As I say, I don't expect to 'correct' papers. I'm looking for major writing problems, not misplaced modifiers. Papers are only experiments, and when a given one's teaching potential is exhausted, I move on to the next assignment. I'm not looking for perfection, and that saves a lot of wear and tear.
* I give assignments I'm interested in and that play to my students' strengths. In my cc, that means avoiding litcrit type papers based on readings in favor of personal essays. We're all happier, though the students wish like the devil I'd stop insisting on first person singular.
* In my online courses where I write extensive comments, I look for rewrites and quick replies to my comments--that fast turnaround motivates teachers, as well as students!
* In class, I focus on writing. Again a lot of wear and tear is avoided. Here's how I put it in my syllabus:
"If you approach this class expecting that I’m going to hassle you about your appearance, your lateness or absences, your food and soda, your homework coming in late, and so on—you’re going to be disappointed. You may get mad at me for not providing you with the discipline you need. Tough! Provide your own! This ain’t high school!
The only thing I claim expertise in is writing. I can’t make you a better person. I’m not going to try. Naturally, I want you to be neat, clean, polite, punctual, organized, friendly, chem-free, hardworking, and cheerful. But the only thing I’m going to talk to you about is your writing.
When we get to the writing, I’ll have a lot to say."
Even the smaller load can lead to burnout, so let me offer a few suggestions for dealing with the grading that inevitably comes with this discipline. For example, use heavily guided peer review and lots of "ungraded" assignments. Limit comments on smaller assignments; I have these emailed to keep me from compulsively copy editing. You should also consider having your students submit their assignments electronically so you can use the Word comment function and macros to respond. Writing out explanations of missing topic sentences 10 or 15 times in each batch of papers (particularly when you have already done this on previous papers) will make you nuts if you let it. Dropping in a macro is so much more satisfying. Also, students seem to read typed comments more often for some reason, so you might actually see the end of explaining such organizational mishaps within the confines of the semester. Finally, though it is painful, limit teacher guided revisions. I let students revise graded drafts but only if they meet with me and complete a new draft within a week or so; this discourages a lot of people who just want to move commas around. One more thing that might help. When you get a feel for the courses you are teaching, set up as much of your schedule in advance as humanly possible. Obviously, you will have to make small adjustments to address student needs, but you won't have to reinvent the wheel each week, leaving you time to pay attention to student needs.
Hope that helps. You should check out Russian Violets's blog; she is a master at fitting 36 hours into a 24 hour day. Despite the grading, I think composition is one of the most satisfying places to teach in a college because we have so much effect on the rest of a student's career both educationally and professionally. They can't do nothin' if they can't write good!
How to do this without going insane? Hmmm...
Dream School offers just enough literature courses that each full-timer could teach one if s/he wanted to do so; this allegedly breaks up the monotony of teaching comp even though the max enrollments are higher. I take advantage of this every. chance. I. get.
If that is not an option, however, I offer some ways to cut grading time. On hard copy drafts of papers for face-to-face courses, I only grammar-edit the first page. I advise students that their writing did not magically get better after that; no, they must hunt down and fix all recurrences of the errors on page one. Any new errors, of course, I mark.
When grading online, I have a file called "Comments" that I open even before looking at student prose. I use Word's editing tools to insert recurring problem comments: "Run-on sentence." "Fragment." "Clarify." I will mark the same error twice and then instruct the student to fix the problem throughout. I insert personal accolades or unique problem comments as needed, but I try to limit them so that the gloss does not overtake the text.
I take nothing late. Nothing. That's what the syllabus says, anyway. Of course, if someone was hospitalized, I'll bend, but they know from the beginning that missing class does not extend deadlines. I now hear much less about the sniffles, tummyaches, and ingrown toenails. Every now and then, one whines, but I simply point to the syllabus.
Like SnarkyProf, I also use a lot of peer review, and I impose a penalty on the students who skip or do a shitty job as peer reviewers. I point out that this is how it works in the real world, and they should get used to sharing their work with their colleagues (Example: I never send off my own writing until SnarkyProf gives it the evil eye, and vice versa).
Additionally, while I allow revision, I average the grades of the first and the revised submission. I used to just count the higher of the two grades, but then I started getting rubbish the first time around. Students would turn something in just to turn it in and get comments. I got wise to that and made it far more important that they do a decent job the first time. Like SnarkyProf, I require that students wishing to revise meet with me within a week of receiving their paper so that we can discuss the issues. I make them write a revision proposal that they bring to their appointment outlining what they understand the problems to be as well as their proposal for fixing them (this MUST be more than "I'm going to fix what you told me to fix," or they will be denied permission to revise) and the date by which they will submit the new paper. If I veto any part of it, they may not revise, so this counteracts student attempts to say "I'll revise by the end of the semester." Instead, they revise while all is still fresh in their minds, and I'm not buried at the end of the term. The student then must make revisions, attach the old copy to the new, and write a reflective piece on what they changed and why. It's a lot of work for the student, but it makes the grading much easier because s/he will usually do a good job when it's all said and done.
Finally, for final papers (in all classes, not just research writing), I just read and plop a letter grade onto the final paper of the term. I used to waste time commenting on everything, but since so few come back for the papers, I stopped. I justify this by telling them that my comments are geared toward revision, and since the last paper of the term is not revisable, they do not need these detailed remarks. Instead, I use a rubric, check boxes, and stick a grade on it. Finis.
I hope this helps. DeanDad, I may just use this on my own blog since I've kind of taken over yours a bit here. Apologies.
Here's some more free advice (for what that is worth) for those starting out in this discipline. Save everything: old notes, cool syllabi, tests from your own classes, etc. Most of my best material is stolen; view all colleagues and other academics as major resources for your own teaching.
If you cannot get the job done in 40 hours for one class, you are doing way too much work for your students, and that is coming from a very dedicated teacher. Let them do the work. Group work isn't a cop op; most of the students I work with do better when they help each other figure out something rather than simply listening to me lecture endlessly on it. For example, let them write their own rubrics and discussion questions on the readings. Spend a lot less time on their assignments; they don't usually read all of your comments anyway. They need big things pointed out clearly and small style and grammar problems once or twice. Use the university writing center to give them grammar review if necessary. Finally, do what you can ahead of the semester and put everything (including specific assignment sheets) in writing. My syllabus (with class schedule) goes about 15 pages (I put sticky notes on it with changes I want to make throughout the semester). I average only two whiny students a semester for this reason. RV uses the same strategy, and it works.
I will reiterate that this is an amazing profession, but you have to be smart and strategic or you will kill yourself without reaching a single student. Shortcuts are not cheating! They are using your limited energy and resources wisely, usually to better pedagogical effect that beating your head against the wall. Some of the best classes I taught were the ones for which I was the least prepared.
Apologies to DD for taking over the blog. I promise to start my own at some point to post my novels there!! :)
To DD's question: Our CC has an unusual system that looks at body hours. A full load is 450 of them (30*15) if you have one prep. The instructor can decide if this is split into a few large lectures or many small ones. This number gets adjusted down with more preps, and there is a max number of contact hours so people teaching small labs don't end up spending 50 hours in the classroom. Composition faculty have smaller classes and make up their load working in a writing center. Not a "lab" like DD mentioned; more like group office hours where they help whatever comes through the door.
Something that hasn't been addressed here is rural vs. urban/suburban. We in the sticks have to teach more because we simply can't find qualified (as defined by the accrediting agency) adjuncts. The K12 schools have people with the appropriate degrees, but most don't have time/energy to teach at night. Therefore, in order to have the sections that student demand requires, our faculty typically teach 18-24 hours. And given the state of the economy in the sticks (where we prefer to live, believe it or not!) our jobs are some of the best ones going.
Oh, and every term I find myself pruning more and more: my syllabus is still quite lengthy, but handouts become less wordy and assigned readings become sparser. Less is often more, especially with first or second year undergrads.
We also have large-lecture factors, which increase the load we receive for a course based on the number of students enrolled. So, a 3-unit course with 30 students gets 3 load hours, with 75 students the same course gets 4.5 load hours (1.5x), with 150 students the same course gets 6 load hours (2x), and so on. There are fixed cutoffs between the various levels, which means that faculty attempt to enroll just barely enough students to meet the next higher amount of load hours (or, conversely, deans often try to schedule courses for adjuncts so they're capped just under the cutoff).
I do find my students a bit "higher maintenance" in some regards (they need detailed instructions and more one-on-one assistance for example), but I also am able to observe significant and tangible improvements in these students over the course of 15 weeks. I can't always say that about my college comp students. Plus, many CCs have a dearth of folks interested in teaching basic writing at all, much less teaching it well, so if you make it known that you are interested in these courses, chances are you will get them. Oh, and many basic writing classes have labs attached, so you may receive 4-6 hours credit per course.