Over-Preparation is the Foe of Inspiration. Yeah. Right.


millerBy Melissa Miller, Ed.D., M.Ed.

There are two kinds of people in the world: planners, and those I like to call, “crazy people.” I am a planner. I am what my husband and friends affectionately call “Loveable Type A.”

Okay, I made up the “loveable” part.

As an educator, I always thought planning was an asset to my profession. When I taught elementary school, we were trained to over-plan and over-prepare. This served me well and suited my own personal organizational style.

Teaching in higher education, however, has been a crash course in trying to figure out the balance between over-planning and under-preparing. My greatest fear while teaching my first course was that I would not have enough material or enough talking points. Would I get the timing down correctly? How would I pace myself? Does this get easier? Luckily, I had classroom experience, but standing in front of fifth graders and teaching a room full of college students was a whole different ball game.

In order to ease my anxiety, I like to over-prepare. I like to have a list of talking points, to have the power points slides laid out, and to have the syllabus down cold. Students generally respond well to this.

As luck would have it, I’ve begun writing this blog, which entails (and forces) self-reflection and analysis of my teaching methods and strategies. I’ve begun to think about the benefits and consequences of over-planning and under-planning. Those professors who under-plan are quite foreign to me—another species! They strike me as fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants people in their private and professional lives. I picture them walking into class, straight from their walk across campus, and beginning a lively discussion that engages and challenges young minds. Straight out of Hollywood. (Yeah, right.)

Then there is me, Professor Miller: I practice my discussions and anticipate questions. I record previous sessions so I can listen to them and reflect. I wonder if I will always do this, or if it is because I am a New Adjunct? So why do I play it safe? It is partly personality. I am a planner in my personal life. It’s October, and yes, I have the majority of my Christmas shopping completed. I’m one of those people.

But as far as the classroom goes… Maybe I over-plan because I lack confidence and experience. Will I always feel this way? Someday, will I have the confidence to push my lectures outside of my comfort zone? Hopefully. I certainly see the benefits to this method of discussion. It can be very student-directed, and the unexpected can lead to interesting places.

“Over-preparation is the foe of inspiration,” according to Napoleon Bonaparte. Of course, things didn’t work out so well for the General, So I’m not sure if I want to follow his advice. After all, I’m looking to vacation on some small island in the Mediterranean, not be exiled to one.

About the New Adjunct: Dr. Melissa Miller completed her Ed.D. with an emphasis in Teacher Leadership from Walden University. She holds a M.Ed. from Mary Washington University and a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Virginia Tech. Dr. Miller’s professional and research interests include adult and online learning, professional development, and literacy. Presently, Dr. Miller works as an adjunct instructor and an evaluator, while also enjoying her role as a wife and mother.

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  1. This is my fourth (non-consecutive) semester as an adjunct. The first time I did exactly as you are doing, spending probably around 5-6 hrs preparing my powerpoint presentations because it made me feel in control. About halfway through the class I realized I was probably over-preparing, and that my lectures had too much content and not enough student engagement. A lot of the time I felt I couldn’t stop long enough for class discussions because I would run out of time to “cover” all the material. Nevertheless, once established, I couldn’t get out of the overpreparing groove; it was comforting.

    This semester I am teaching a subject that is within my field but just slightly outside my main area of expertise. I also have a full-time non-academic job so I haven’t had time to prepare as much as I used to (I am putting in 3-4 hrs per lecture). To my surprise I found that not cramming everything I thought I needed to include in every minute of the lecture means I have more time for things that truly engage the students, like discussions and group activities. It has given my lectures more breathing space and I think the students are learning more.

    It’s hard to get that balance between under- and over- preparing but keep in mind that “content” is more widely available to our students than ever before. What they need is to learn how to master it and think critically about it, and obviously read and write coherently about it. I feel like we need to make sure learning is happening, not just content delivery.

  2. I’ve been trapped in adjunct academia for over 15 years, so I have a view a little different than yours, I think. I teach a lot of writing intensive courses, and when I break down the number of hours it takes me to grade papers, prepare my classes, drive to and from class, spend classroom time….and then deduct the supplies I have to buy out of my own pocket,or the parking I have to pay, I find that I am earning less than $5/hour. I am, by nature, an overplanner. But the reality of teaching 4 to 6 courses a semester at two to three universities makes it impossible. I feel underprepared when I am not overprepared, but the adjunct reality is that we are not supported in our desire, or in the students’ right, to have classes prepared and shaped the way we would truly wish.

  3. Hi Melissa,

    I, too, am a rather new adjunct, and I’m one of those “underplanners”. I think. Coming from a middle school background, I overplanned to keep things moving for the tykes.

    Adults bring their own content-based, personal experiences into class discussion. This is something I have to remain flexible for when outlining my weeks.

    It certainly is a challenge to balance overplanning and underplanning, as you said. Thanks much for the good read!

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