Diary of a Visiting Assistant Professor: When a 4-course teaching load isn’t 4 courses (or, don’t shy away from a 4/4)

Last year was my first year as a visiting assistant professor, and I kept up this blog project all year, posting nearly every week. The idea behind the project: getting a Ph.D. from a big research university doesn’t necessarily prepare you for life as a faculty member at a small liberal arts college. I thought my own experiences might be of use to others in similar situations, or to those just leaving graduate school and starting short-term or SLAC jobs themselves. I’ve received positive feedback, so the project was helpful to at least some. (Side note: the most-read post, by far, is about clothing choices; I’m not sure what to make of that fact.)

I hadn’t planned to keep the project going this year, as I felt I’d said pretty much all I had to say. But, the second year on the job is slightly different, and so I will periodically revisit some topics I talked about last year. One of my earliest posts was about teaching. Graduate students typically teach just one or two courses a semester. Faculty, especially at a teaching-centered college, teach at least three. And a persisting fear among graduate students is having to teach four courses a semester.

I’m teaching four courses this semester, and I’m here to tell you: not all 4-course teaching assignments are the same. If you’re among the group who fears teaching four courses, here are some things to consider:

  1. Just because you’re teaching four classes doesn’t mean you’re teaching four separate courses. I have three sections of my Wikipedia class, and one section of my literature and science class. So that’s just two. (This will change in the spring, but I’ll still have two sections of one course, so only three different courses).
  2. Different colleges have different class sizes. If you’re teaching 2 classes of 35 students, that’s 70 students. If you’re teaching 4 classes of 16, that’s 64. (I have a B.A. in math, but I’m not sure I needed it for these calculations).
  3. You’ll find a schedule. I spend more time in the office this semester, because I teach every day. But I’m no less productive, I just work more from the office and less from home.

I waited until the first round of papers was returned before writing this, since that’s the task that would seem most daunting. But thus far, teaching four courses feels pretty much like teaching three. Others might have different experiences, and I know that among those teaching four courses, I’m on the privileged end of the spectrum. But the reality of the current job market is that nobody can afford to ignore a position just because the teaching load looks heavy. And just because it looks heavy, doesn’t mean it isn’t manageable.

What is the heaviest teaching load you’ve had? How did you handle it?


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