A Teaching Sabbatical

This semester I am going to do something that I haven’t done for 6 years: I am going to teach 4 classes.  I did this one semester when  was at the University of North Dakota on a one year contract.  Unlike that year, however, this semester I will teach 4 different preps and possibly run some kind of digital/public history practicum.  Traditionally, sabbatical give faculty a time to focus on research and writing.  I feel like I write a good bit and have a strong research focus most semesters, so I am turning the traditional idea of a sabbatical on its head (in a playful way) and using to justify spending a semester focusing on teaching.

To do this, I shifted the emphasis in my contract heavily to teaching.

Next, I am going to teaching a range of courses involving  different classroom environments, subject matter, and pedagogical strategies. The plan is for the different course types to provide a kind of total-teaching work out where I am made to switch from one kind of environment to the next, sometimes on the same day. I imagine that this will help me develop “flexible habits of mind” the same way the circuit training develops different muscle groups.

History 101: Western Civilization – 60-80 students, asynchronous online course with podcast lectures and a range of primary source and secondary source reading assignments. The course is relatively writing intensive for a 100 level course with various assignments totaling 6000-8000 words.  This course focuses on both basic content and a generic introduction to the methods used in the humanities and social sciences.

History 240: Historians Craft –  20-30 students, small classroom environment with a blend of lecture, discussion, and primary source reading assignments.  The course will have a midterm exam and require a handful (5000 words) of short and highly polished writing assignments.  The course will focus on the history of the discipline of history and its methodology.  The first 7 weeks are a lectures with discussions of primary sources and the second seven weeks are a practical seminar in writing a formal, professional research proposal.

History 502: Graduate Historiography. 10-15 students in a seminar environment.  The course will require weekly writing an longer, synthetic paper for a total of 20,000 – 25,000 words.  The focus of the course will be on contemporary approaches to the study of the past.

Classics 202: Second Year Latin II. 10-15 students in a language readings course. This course will focus on weekly reading assignments first in Livy and then in Virgil as well as lectures and readings about Augustan culture and society.  The focus of the course will be on daily preparation, but it will also include at least 2 exams and a short (2000 word) paper.

Digital/Public History Practicum. 1-3 students.  This course will focus on the creation of a digital archive of M.A. thesis written by graduate students in the department of history over the past 100 years. The goal of the course is a proof-of-concept level digital archive with the interpretative texts, a post on the project at a local forum focusing on graduate research, and a formal proposal outlining the requirements for creating a comprehensive digital archive of all M.A. theses.

I fortify my emphasis on teaching I also want to incorporate a number of reflexive activities in my courses.  Over the past few days, I’ve blasted through Daniel Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School (Jossey Bass 2009) and was pleased to see that he endorsed several of my own efforts to improve my teaching.

First, I was to get back to keeping my teaching diary.  I did this rather religiously for the first few years teaching. In fact, it became the basis for my first Teaching Thursday blog posts.  Over the last few years, however, I’ve stopped maintaining it regularly and have, as a result, lost a bit of resolution on the effectiveness of my classroom activities, assignments, and discussion prompts.  So with my teaching sabbatical, I plan to make time each week (if not each day) to be reflective on what works and what doesn’t work in my classroom.

Second, I need to be more active seeking peer critique of my classroom performance.  I am lucky enough to have some outstanding colleagues who are willing to take the time to visit my classes and provide some important critiques on my performance.

Finally, I want to set some goals for the semester in terms of student performance, retention, assessment, and my own teaching reviews.  I have to go through my reviews from last semester and crunch the numbers from the last few semesters to determine where I can realistically improve my performance over the course of a single semester.

The hope is that a teaching sabbatical can, like a research sabbatical, set my teaching on a sound foundation for the future.


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