it’s hard not to take it personally

Once again, my grad class didn’t make.

The last time I offered a doctoral class of my own devices – probably three years ago now – I ended up with 3 students enrolled.  That didn’t fly, of course, so, instead, they cancelled the class and I taught a general ed course for one of my departments.  It wasn’t tortuous but it took me half the semester to hit my stride and not dread coming to class.

Having learned my lesson, this time I designed a completely new doctoral course, made eye-catching flyers, sent information through the listservs, emailed students, used other faculty to publicize – and I ended up with 4 students.  I need double that to even have the opportunity to beg to keep the class.

With the semester starting on Monday, no one is suggesting I create a new course in three days, thank goodness. Instead, I’ll either teach an overload in the fall (blech) or be given an alternative assignment (possibly blech).  It’s likely to have something to do with curriculum development for online courses.  That seems to be the thing to do these days and our university is charging ahead on that bandwagon.

I’m not sure how not to take this personally.  The first time I offered a doctoral class, I was still new to campus.  Students didn’t know me, I didn’t know how to get the word out and I didn’t have any sort of reputation.  Now, they do know me, I know how to spread the word and it appears I have a less-than-stellar reputation.  I’ve watched my colleagues’ masters and doctoral classes fill up with graduate students, regardless of the subject matter (and I mean no disrespect when I saw they’ve offered some pretty dull stuff), yet I feel like students are fleeing from my material and me.

Both times, I’ve offered courses that fill a gap in our current course offerings and cross my research interests.  My colleagues have had success (and published books) using that formula; I was actually hopeful that this course might lead to conference presentations or published articles with or among the students.  The whole point of doctoral study – at least to me – is to flesh out your knowledge base, to understand your field of inquiry while focusing your own research on a specific area of that field.  Both courses I’ve offered dealt with major issues in our field, material that would be extremely beneficial to students now and in the future.  Either I’m not getting that across, the students don’t care or I’m way off base in my assumptions about doctoral study and/or my field.

I’m not sure how receptive I’m going to be to students when they come asking for independent studies.  That may sound petty, I realize, and I’m not offering it as a carte blanche reaction.  Still, faculty get no credit for independent studies, even though they take up so much time and energy.  Our students seem to prefer IS over actual courses.  Who wouldn’t?  The students get exactly the material they want to study and the professor’s undivided attention.  It’s hard to feel benevolent when students – including my own – are willing to ask for my time without taking any of my classes.

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3 thoughts on “it’s hard not to take it personally

  1. Pika says:

    I am sorry about the course, but here’s an idea about the independent studies. Wouldn’t you be able to get conference presentations or articles from those as well? I.e. a student does the study and then he/she writes a paper that you supervise/help to write/edit, etc. for some publishing venue (conference or journal) and submits it with the two of you as co-authors. Not sure how that works in your field and university and if it is possible, but if these independent studies are sort of like mini-theses or chapters in a PhD thesis, then this could be an option to make the work count not only for students but also for your publication list. Just a thought…

  2. drfoureyes says:

    I feel you on this one! My special topics grad class almost didn’t make for this quarter, too, and it is hard not to take it personally. My topics tend not to be as familiar or “sexy” as some of those that my colleagues do, so I end up with smaller classes, often at least partially filled with students who are there because they need to fill a requirement, not because they’re genuinely interested.

    Re: independent studies–I don’t do them. Not that I’ve been asked, of course, but I wouldn’t. Extra work for no compensation or recognition? Not sure how that’s a good deal for us. I think you’re well with your rights not to take those on (or, perhaps, to only do so when there’s a potential for publication for you, as Pika suggests).

  3. Pika: That’s a good point. I’ve done that type of thing a few times in the past but not nearly as much as I should. I think I need to work on my self-preservation skills when it comes to student work.

    drfoureyes: Smaller classes have their benefits but I understand the rub of students signing up without a genuine interest in the topic. I think, if I want to cross graduate teaching and my specific interests, I may need to accept the independent studies – but I’m definitely focusing on Pika’s point if that’s the case.

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