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STEM Education Poetry

Midterm Assessment

Though I strive for increasing simplicities,
Class preps melt into muddled cyclicities.  
Here in Fall 2020,
There’s effort a-plenty
In balancing Chem’s synchronicities. 

This non-Twitter poem is not so much intended to elucidate any aspect of STEM education as to acknowledge this challenging autumn for faculty and students alike, here in the middle of the fall semester.   

“Though I strive for increasing simplicities, /
Class preps melt into muddled cyclicities.”
I’ve spoken with a few of my colleagues about how much the 2020-21 academic year reminds us of our respective first years on the tenure track.  It is a major shift to go from the research focus of postdoctoral work into full-time “class prep”: generating sets of notes with which to stay at least a day (or at least a few hours!) ahead of the class sessions that require those resources.  Since real-time teaching itself– organizing lectures, grading assessments, etc.– easily constitutes the substance of a normal work week, any term a professor has a completely new course is notable for the additional work it involves.  

The poem’s first two lines acknowledge that, although I attempted over the summer to prepare, it wasn’t fully possible.  Thus, recently, time has seemed to “melt into muddled cyclicit[y],” as it did a decade ago, when I began my teaching work; it’s easy to lose track of the days, moving through this befuddling term!  

“Here in Fall 2020, /
There’s effort a-plenty /
In balancing Chem’s synchronicities.”          
Teaching is very rewarding, but it’s also considerably time-consuming this autumn, mainly because I’ve been learning best practices pertaining to remote classrooms.  “Balancing Chem’s synchronicities” is a shorthand for those daily routines: preparing coherent lecture outlines and videos to be available asynchronously; maintaining synchronous classroom sessions, so that students and I can discuss questions on useful timescales. (I’ve been most fortunate to work with wonderful classes and colleagues; as I predicted in Week 1, the “effort a-plenty” is a shared endeavor throughout the department and across campus.)