I am stressed out. The class I’m taking has only two exams – Midterm and Final. The exams together are worth 45% of the grade. This is unfortunate for me, considering that I’m not too great at exams!
In yet another example of “things that frustrate me as a student, so I try to do better at as a teacher”, I don’t like exams that cover too many topics. Sure, make the final cumulative; that’s fine. But, during our “learning period” of the semester, I prefer a tighter cycle – Teach, practice, assess. Teach, practice, assess. You can spend more time doing in-depth study of fewer topics in order to prepare for that topic’s exam, rather than panicking and trying to cover every topic for the first 8 weeks and praying to your exam-god that your teacher’s exams aren’t unintuitive, and that what you think is important to study happens to be the same thing that your teacher thinks is important to study. (For reference, I also hate the lack of study guides!)
In my classes, I tend to have about 4 exams, including the final. I like to schedule my courses in chunks, with exams being the clear delimiter between topics. For exam 2, students will be studying up on arrays, pointers, memory management, and dynamic variables/arrays; all related and tie together. Exam 3 is everything OOPey. Structs, classes, inheritance.
For Data Structures, the first exam is over introductory content, wrapping static and dynamic arrays, and building a linked list. The second will be over stacks, queues, and dictionaries. The third will be over trees, heaps, and balanced search trees.
And for Discrete Math, each chapter of the book gets its own exam as well. A nice, clean, split between topics in the course.
I also either prepare study guides, or provide exams from a previous semester. Why? I don’t protect my old exams like a dragon hordes treasure because at some point, somebody is going to have that information. And they’ll distribute that information among their friends, so then only a small pool of people will have it. That’s not fair to everybody, and that’s also not really something I can stop. So start them all on even footing. I hope that it also discourages cheating if students know what I expect of them, and what I intend to assess of them.
So I’m nervous about this upcoming midterm. I have actually taken this class before, as an undergrad, at another university…
… and while I scored really well in my programming assignments, I just don’t do well on these kinds of exams. Math, gimme, I’ll ace that. Exams with coding on paper – ok, I can do that. Exams where you memorize a bunch of random information aimlessly? That is not my strong suit.
The first time I took the course, it was taught by Dr. Cotter, who is one of my favorite teachers. Even having an interesting teacher didn’t make it easy for me to do well!
Of course, I’m older now, I’m more experienced, I’m better at knowing how to learn. I have been using more resources as I study these concepts so that I have a better understanding than I would if I only studied from the textbook. But still, I resent not knowing what is expected of me. I resent the lack of respect for my time, by making the exam an amorphous mystery – good luck.
(I am so sick of these memes on FB!)
Today, I woke up early. On Tuesdays, that means 8 am, since I teach my first class of the day at 12:30 pm. I woke up early in order to work on class materials for today and tomorrow, in the morning while I’m free to work from home with my coffee and bagel and music. Because once I’m in the office, my productivity takes a hit.
Over the weekend, I had prepared the topic lecture, made the video along side it. I built the homework and online quizzes. I still needed the actual in-class exercise for class today, which is how we spend the class periods for Discrete Math — I spend about 30 minutes lecturing, maybe more time if there’s some example problems to work out — then I have them work in their groups to learn the new material via these exercises. The exercises start them out simple and progressively get harder, with explanations before each section.
Went to my first section of Discrete Math, lectured, and graded things while they worked on their exercises. Home for lunch, then back for office hours for two-and-a-half hours.
I work on my exam for Data Structures tomorrow, which I had started last week but had not finished. My brain isn’t working; I feel restless, cramped, unhappy, anxious. I do not enjoy being required to physically be in a location when I can do the exact same work in other locations. I know how to be productive, I know what environment I work best in, but so many organizations and companies equate “time spent” with “productivity”, that a lot of my time ends up wasted.
I spent a little time video chatting with Rai from my office. I cried for a little bit, because the exhaustion is always there. I miss Rai, and I’m constantly tired, and I’m constantly working.
And then I keep getting arbitrary little tasks that eat up more time – write a short report in response to the departments’ personality tests on how I’m planning on working more effectively with somebody, reformat ALL OF MY SYLLABI because they don’t exactly match the department template (this is my fourth semester, and suddenly?), have weekly meetings on professional development for myself. One faculty member stops by for absolutely no reason, but makes up bizarre excuses to come talk to me, and it makes me hella uncomfortable. I’ve been told that I need to be physically present to show that I’m working. None of these things make me more productive; they make me less productive because I can’t get in “the flow”, they make me unhappy, they make me unhealthy.
I spent most of my office hours reformatting one syllabus. Because that’s a good use of my time.
Went to my night class, taught that. Came home, time to finish up that Data Structures exam for tomorrow – the multiple choice questions are done, and I worked on part of the programming assignment during my class tonight while the students were working. I still have to write the unit tests tonight so that I don’t have to spend as much time afterward on the grading.
I still have to come up with a list of, I don’t know… additional prerequisites for one of my Fall 2017 classes, because arbitrary reasons. I have to update these syllabi now. I have to finish grading my exams from last Thursday’s class. I have a lot of grading to catch up on in general.
I ate cheese in tortillas with some green salsa for dinner. For breakfast I had bagels, for lunch I had chips and refried beans. I don’t go out and exercise, except for the time that I walk to my destinations on campus. I usually don’t get enough sleep. I wake up anxious and feeling like shit. I have nothing to look forward to, because even if there were some new video game or something, I wouldn’t have much of any time for it. I can squeeze in an audio book on my 40-minute commute to KU. I usually watch YouTube clips of late night shows while I’m eating breakfast in the morning.
I still have to find a graduate advisor and set up my committee and write up my degree plan. I still have to do my own homework and study for exams and go to thesis defenses and write reports on them. All the professors are interested in thesis students; I want to do a grad project. I’m a “non-traditional student” who knows what the fuck I want, and I don’t want to spend years on that kind of research. I have ideas for grad projects. I want to do my own thing, get a degree, and open up more career options for myself.
And, as always, my startup gets put on the back burner. I don’t have time, and I certainly don’t have the emotional energy. I’m miserable.
And when people tell me “Work smarter, not harder” or “You have to make time” I just want to scream at them. My partner is stuck on the opposite site of the world, and has been there for the past four full months. Tomorrow is our anniversary. He was given two weeks notice to pack up his life and go back to his home country. On top of everything else I’m doing, I’m also trying to get our fiance visa paperwork done.
I wake up every day with the radio turning on to NPR. The news is constantly about 45 and his shitshow. I worry about the future. I worry about the climate. I worry about my friends and family, especially after this shooting in Olathe of an engineer from India. One of my students was friends with that man. I have students from so many different countries. Everybody deserves to be safe.
I’m so exhausted, but I have so much work to do. I try to get ahead of the pile at night, but it doesn’t help. I work slow, I’m sad. Then I keep getting handed more bs to work on that has no value whatsoever. I started the semester burnt out – the break between winter and spring semesters was not relaxing, with the political climate.
There’s nothing I want to do. I don’t enjoy anything except maybe junk food and sleep. I’m angry that I’m once again stuck where I am. I keep trying to work toward more freedom, but things just get worse.