I have a recurring night-before-the-first-class dream in which I arrive in the classroom empty-handed, tell the students I have nothing for them — no syllabus, nothing — and tell them to come back the next day. In the dream I feel really embarrassed and ashamed at my inability to prepare.
In reality, I am an organized person and in days before the start of a semester I am busy with many behind-the-scenes preparations that are familiar to anyone who teaches. When I was new at this teaching gig, I used to make up a list of things to do about a week before the start of each semester. The list would include a bunch of individual tasks related to lecture, lab, our course management system, and so on.
Then, one semester it dawned on me that I could write my list in Word and save it from one semester to the next. I know this doesn’t sound like a revolutionary idea, but it has been a huge time saver for me. The list has grown quite detailed, with everything from bookstore phone numbers to instructions for those online tasks that don’t happen often enough for me to remember exactly how to do them at the dawn of each school year. I have categories for general tasks (like posting office hours), CONNECT, clickers, Desire2Learn, lab, LON-CAPA (an online program we use for pre- and post-lab assignments), and the first week of lectures. Each category spells out a task in detail. As I complete each task I turn it red, so it’s easy to see my progress.
If you would like a version of my pre-semester checklist, please leave a comment or send me an email. While you’re at it, let me know some of your best tips for preparing for a new semester.