It is February, another year is ticking away. In February, I start two more online classes and have a month of overlap until some of my January classes end in March. This is one of the hazards of online teaching, schools with start dates all over the board. When managed properly, staggered start and end dates can be used to the instructor’s advantage. In general, the busiest week in the online classroom is week 1, especially if it is some of the student’s first experience with an online class or a new University. The other busy week is the week after class ends, grading week, especially if you teach writing intensive classes. Smart scheduling permits an adjunct to teach 6 classes and be in varying stages of each class at the same time. The busy periods can be spaced out and provide for a less stressful teaching experience. Smart scheduling does not always happen, especially when trying to piece together teaching at three schools to make a living.
When piecing together my spring schedule, I really thought I had it under control. I started two classes before the year ended, had winter break, picked up two more classes the second week of January, two more the first week of February and two more the first week of March. My classes that began in December end the third week of February. I have spaced my classes well for the first week madness and the week after that is always full of grading. I am holding a six class load that stays steady through May. There will be paychecks until summer. I was quite proud of myself with how well this was working out! Then I realized my fatal mistake….
I teach research methods, qualitative research methods, and I require proposal chapter assignments at varying intervals throughout the course. I am trying to instill the value of good time management to my students and get then into the habit of working a little every day to write large pieces of research. I had a large section of research methods that started in January, so Chapter 1 and a summary of research methodology are due in week 4. I was busy checking into my new classrooms and answering questions last night and then I checked into my research methods BlackBoard dropbox and found 15 documents, 15 proposals, waiting for me. Every student had their work in before the deadline (I think this is a first). Surprise, it’s week 4 in one research methods class and week 1 in two more doctoral-level research classes. This week is going to have hours of grading, refining research questions, and explaining errors in methodology. So much for smart scheduling.
Could I have avoided the high workload I have created this week? Probably. Would I have avoided the high workload? Probably not. If I had seen the scheduling error, I probably would have proceeded as planned. I have a system that works well in my research methods classes, so it would not be in the student’s best interest to change the due dates. Why should the students suffer for my errors in judgement regarding my workload? My job is to help the students succeed, not put them at a disadvantage for my convenience. Could I have turned down the new classes I started this week? Yes. Would I have turned down the new classes? Probably not. Like any other adjunct, those teaching online are always trying to keep the calendar full so the stomachs can stay full and I am not a fan of ramen noodles.
It is the second day of the week, so far, so good. I have divided my work up, set my schedule, made my plans. As long there are no surprises this week, no unexpected events, I will get through it. The research methods students will get the constructive feedback they deserve, the students in the new classes will have the direction needed to move forward, and I will start preparing my other two classes for their final projects.
People have asked me if I ever get bored or lonely sitting home alone for hours while teaching online. I am sure for those who have never been an online student or an online instructor, it would appear to be to be a solitary profession. For me, this is a career full of diversity, interaction, challenge and variety. The benefits may not include health insurance, but I can wear fuzzy duck slippers to work. It really doesn’t get any better than this!