You Can’t Alway Teach What You Want

It’s that time of year when we start nailing down next year’s course offerings. As our department has lost a boatload of faculty over the past few years (we’re down five full-time people and not down that many students), it’s a careful negotiation these days to figure out exactly what has to be offered so that students can finish their degrees and the minimum requirements for the program are maintained.

Practically, this means that a fair chunk of my teaching time is given over to obligatory courses. For the past several years, I’ve had to teach a term of western civ and a term of graduate methods. Even on my sabbatical years, I teach these as I only take one-term sabbaticals. So I begin to get a wee bit tired of the slog. The colleague who could relieve me on western civ has gotten a permanent position at a different campus. The colleagues who could relieve me of the graduate methods are teaching other obligatory courses or otherwise unavailable.

We all have some sort or another of obligatory course to teach in this brave new world of shrunken staffing levels. At least we have the prospect of hiring a few sessionals, albeit on a course-by-course basis. Excellence without money as Historiann would say! A few sessionals do not full-time faculty replace, however. When it comes to obligatory courses on methods, theory or both, all of which have been carefully designed to meet specific needs for majors in our curriculum, we’re wary of handing those off to outsiders. (And don’t get me started on how maddening it is to be short-staffed and only be able to offer course-by-course sessionals to other historians. The job crunch is real and alive at our campus, just as at others.)

That leaves me with three term courses in my regular full-year load. A lot to choose from, you’d think? Wrong! Two of those term courses have to be reserved for senior seminars. While teaching seniors can be a privilege, my senior seminars aren’t right up my research alley most years: they’re conceived of as appropriate capstones to popular electives that are on the books. For example, this year I have senior seminars on early and late medieval chronicles, building on students taking the early and late medieval surveys in the previous years. Next year, I’ll fill up the slots with seminars on Tudor and Stuart Britain (closer to my research focus).

If you’re keeping track at home, however, two senior seminars on whatever topic means I now have one term-long elective slot to offer. Argh! I have to choose wisely so it can be a useful support for whatever senior seminar I’m likely to offer in the year following. SO I’m slotting in a third-year elective on the Reformation and Counter-Reformation as I expect I’ll have seminars on gender and the life-cycle in early modern Europe for 2013-14.

Then, of course, there’s the obligatory graduate overload: for any graduate student I have (and there’ll be at least one), there’s a directed reading course (two terms in total). It comes with a nominal payment, mind you, so I’m not teaching it for free, but it is a LOT of work since the course has to be crafted to the graduate student’s interest (and the overlap between what my graduate students study and what I research is vanishingly small).

In an ideal world, we’d have enough faculty that we could cycle through the first year course options instead of offering the same two, year after year. That’d give me the occasional year off from western civ and the teaching space to throw in another elective from my many possible preps. The last time I taught my women’s history survey was when I was pregnant with Eldest. She’s in her third year of high school. There’s nothing more frustrating as an educator than having courses you want to teach but can’t.

For six years, now, another colleague and I have wistfully plotted out the possibility of team-teaching a survey course in pre-modern war. We designed the course and it’s occasionally taught on our other campus by a colleague. It’s never been taught here because slotting it in would require us to rejigger a number of obligatory courses so that we could pair it up with one of those to get our full teaching load for a term. But if we swap the obligatory course with another faculty member, that leaves us short in other areas. The house of cards collapses. The tetris blocks reach the top.

Maybe the year after next?

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “You Can’t Alway Teach What You Want

  1. Ink

    “There’s nothing more frustrating as an educator than having courses you want to teach but can’t.” YES! Sigh.

    • J Liedl

      It’s maddening isn’t it. Even though I’m a very long ways away from retirement, I’m not too sanguine that I’ll get to teach some of these courses another time (or even once!) before I am put out to pasture!

  2. Ink

    Maybe squeaky wheel approach? I’m doing that re: one course that’s *exactly* in my specialty but not offered much. I’ve taught it once and will continue to ask for it EVERY TIME we are discussing classes for next term. I hope I don’t drive my chair crazy, but I don’t know what else to do!

    • J Liedl

      Persistence should help, you’re right. I will keep asking for the chance to teach some of these courses and pushing for some further curriculum changes that might free up a bit more of my teaching time to offer these electives. We can always hope that the next time we ask, the answer will be “yes!”