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Today's guest blogger is Audrey Wick, a full-time professor of English at Blinn College in Texas. There, she is a writing teacher who writes. Readers can connect with Audrey to learn more about her projects at audreywick.com or on Twitter and Instagram @WickWrites.
The start of the semester is an exhilarating—if not exhausting—time for college instructors. We juggle course prep, schedule changes, new policy implementation, technology updates, committee work, and much more before students ever appear in our classrooms on day one.
One unique challenge is adapting to a new course textbook when required. For new faculty as well as seasoned faculty, change can be stressful. Still, instructors are masters of adaptation. When it comes to Humanities instructors in particular, we’re at the forefront in many ways. After all, we routinely deal with style manual revisions, digital library updates, and technology changes. Like chameleons, we are adept at changing when our surroundings do.
New textbook implementation tests a Humanities instructor’s critical and speculative skills. It’s not always easy to overhaul instruction and curriculum once a new textbook is adopted, but it’s an empowering and important process to be in control of what we will teach students. Textbooks support teaching, so easing into a major change and keeping in mind the following tips can help ensure a smoother, more effective process of course building that is, ultimately, as exciting for the students as it is for us.
1) Spend some quality time with the book. Explore it inquisitively, from the table of contents to the index. Consider the chapters. Weigh the importance given to certain sections. Consult ancillary material. Know what’s truly in the book before proceeding to plan a semester around it.
2) Lessen the amount of preparation by not starting from scratch. Whether it’s a former syllabus, an example provided by the publisher, or a template through a higher ed institution, using an existing model will minimize the challenging task of building something entirely from the ground up.
3) Think big picture; add details later. Consider course and program outcomes. Then, identify goals and choose readings/assignments based on what aligns to them. This will help streamline the process of week to week navigation for students.
4) Incorporate personal preference. It’s true: instructors are individuals, each with unique talents, expertise, and interests. So regardless of the text, focus on a few choice topics that are particularly exciting. Peppering those throughout the syllabus will help ensure that individual passion for the subject is sustained—because when instructors are passionate, their students are likely to be too!
5) Avoid trappings of stress. True, deadlines and minimum requirements must be met, though there may be ways to leave a little wiggle room in day-to-day or week-to-week handling of exact assignments, homework, and deadlines. In a first semester teaching with a new text, don’t be too hard on yourself to get everything perfectly aligned from day one.
Change takes time, and just like it takes time for students to adapt to their learning materials, the same is true of instructors. Still, new opportunities are exciting. This year, my department has adopted a new handbook for use with our freshman writers, A Writer's Reference, 9th edition, by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers. While I don’t yet have all the answers for how to make the most of the text with my student population, the book is helping me find fresh ways to teach the concepts I love.
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