My Best Idea for Semester Prep

Presemester checklist

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.

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119 Responses to My Best Idea for Semester Prep

  1. Lisa Hooper says:

    I would love to see your list! I am in the midst of semester planning now and need all the help I can get. Thanks for your offer to share.

  2. Lori Coble says:

    I would love to get a copy of your checklist!

  3. Julie Harless says:

    Sounds like a great idea — could I have a copy? and do you have one for cleaning off my desk?
    Julie

  4. Kari Eamma says:

    I would also love to see a copy of your list. We have been using your text for the last year, and really love it. Most of the things on my list are similar to what you listed in your blog. I usually try to think of a new way to have students introduce each other, and get acquainted so that they feel a little more comfortable speaking up in class.

    • Hi Kari, Thanks for the kind words about the book. And … funny you should say that about introducing each other! For the first time this semester, in week 1’s lab we are borrowing iPads and having groups of students make Explain Everything presentations to introduce each other to their lab section (for the same reason — get them used to speaking up). We’ll see how it goes! (P.S. I’ll email the list very soon.)
      Marielle

  5. Janie Sigmon says:

    I would love to have a copy of your list, too…as usual I am overwhelmed?!?

  6. Vladim ir Atryzek says:

    Please send me a copy. Thank you.

  7. Cameron Harmon says:

    Yes, please if you’re willing to share I would love a copy of the list. The start of every semester leaves me feeling like a crazed person!

  8. Genevieve Chung says:

    Please send a copy of your semester prep list. I’ll share with our faculty with your permission. Thanks, Genevieve.

  9. Ken Laser says:

    After 54 years in the classroom and still growing strong, I still am in need of constant reminders going into 2 non majors Human Systems classes I teach each semester-rather than being reminded about something by one of the 160 student’s in these classes. Maybe I can add to the list. Thanks. Ken

  10. Ana Novak says:

    Please send me a copy of your prep list. I too would like to share with our faculty. Thanks, Ana

  11. Megan O'Neill says:

    Please send me a copy of your semester prep list.
    Thanks, Megan

  12. Jessica Hopkins says:

    I’d love to see the list too! I’m constantly finding new things to incorporate in my intro bio course to keep it interesting for me and the students. I continuously add notes to my course files (add this option for the genetics essay, etc). When I open that folder when it is time to start that unit, it is like I left myself all of these little gifts.

    • I love the idea of “all of these little gifts.” I do the same thing with my PowerPoints — I drop in little ideas and cartoons as I find them, then the next semester I find all this fun stuff to incorporate.

  13. Marg Peterson says:

    thanks for sharing–yes, I’d like a copy of your list, too!

  14. Jerry Cronin says:

    Hi, this looks great! Could you please email me your list also? Thanks,

  15. M Kundinger says:

    Please send a copy of your prep list if you are willing to share. Thanks!!!

  16. Shawnda says:

    This is my second semester teaching & I’m still having nightmares. I love lists & have sticky notes everywhere, but like you I haven’t thought about saving them. Please send me your list, probably has many things I haven’t even thought about doing.
    I really appreciate how you share your difficulties as well as your triumphs. Thanks, Shawnda

  17. Maggi says:

    Would love a copy of your prep list. Thanks~

  18. Dave Markwardt says:

    Sounds great; I’d love to see it. I know what you mean about writing things down and using the same list year-to-year. It was a long time before I stopped trying to reinvent the wheel every semester!

  19. Maura Stevenson says:

    Count me in on the request for your prep list. I will think of some ideas to share back in return! Thanks, Maura

  20. Johanna says:

    It would be nice to have a list. Please share with me.

  21. Kathleen Berlyn says:

    sounds like a useful tool. I would love the list as well.

  22. Dr. Munir Syed says:

    It would be great to have the list of preparing for the semester.

  23. Phillip LaScola says:

    Please send a copy of your list. Thanks!

  24. Tami says:

    I would appreciate a copy of your prep list. Am I too late??

    Thanks!

  25. Kristin says:

    I have that same nightmare before my fall term each year (and oddly, usually again before final exams)! I would love a copy of your list.
    Cheers!

  26. MMurray says:

    would love to see your checklist

  27. Kirt Martin says:

    please send me the list. thanks.

  28. William H. Wilcox says:

    Marielle, would love to see a copy of your check list. thanks, bill

  29. Tom Pilat says:

    Send me the list please.

  30. Cynthia Hill says:

    Sounds great I would like to see your ideas

  31. Monica says:

    I would love a copy of this list…I am a list person!!! 🙂 Thank you so much!

  32. Adrianne Vasey says:

    Just came across your blog and post, and I would absolutely love a copy of your checklist. I am a new lecturer preparing to teaching an intro bio course to non-majors starting in January and I have been struggling with ways to organize and preparing everything. So I definitely feel your check-list would be a great help. Thanks so much for offering to share! I look forward to hearing from you.

  33. Michael Fleming says:

    Hi Marielle, Like all those above, I’d love a copy of your pre-semester preparation checklist. Your book is a nice addition to my self of non-majors resources (although we do use a different text for our nonmajors class), and I use the study tips and concept maps in my sections of the course. Cheers!

  34. Adam says:

    love to see your list. Thank you.

  35. Denice D. King says:

    I would love a copy of the list as well, thanks.
    Denice

  36. Sheryl Lumbley says:

    I would love to see your list. I had never thought of color coding the progress. That’s brilliant. My best tip for preparing for the semester is to reexamine and renew my goals and motivation for teaching. If I start the semester with a lazer focus on improvement and a sense of what is working well, I can feel at ease about the new beginning. A colleague has adapted your list idea to the extreme. He developed the 16 week plan which is a list of what to do the entire semester. I would love to compare lists.

    • Thanks for adding your idea to the comments! I love your idea of taking time to remember why we’re doing this job in the first place. Even if we get tired of teaching certain subjects, we owe it to our students to remember that they may be seeing this for the first time. I also like to focus on a few things to improve. For what it’s worth, one of my goals this semester is to replace some of my less-challenging clicker questions with new ones that will provoke more discussion.

    • Sheryl- Would you colleague be willing to share his 16 week list?

  37. I too would love a copy of your list. I am so grateful for those biologists out there who are willing to share their ideas so the rest of us need not “reinvent the wheel”!

  38. Eric Roberts says:

    Thanks for sharing. I would like to test the list to see how it works for procrastinators 😉
    eric

  39. Joni Criswell says:

    As a new faculty member at my school your idea about a list is excellent. I’m an organized person but starting new classes is overwhelming at times. I would love to see your check list so I can begin to create my own. Thanks for the tip.

  40. Dr Porter says:

    Yes, I would love to see your list. Thank you.

  41. james monks says:

    I would love a copy of your list as well. I find that I am incredibly disorganized, and entering my third year teaching vow to become more organized, so any help is appreciated. To Prepare I leave voice notes in my iphone, but that only goes so far. Thanks

  42. Joy Davis says:

    I would love to have a copy of your list! I prepare for the semester by updating everything in a folder on my desktop, that I used for a previous semester. When the folder is updated, most of my tasks are done!

  43. Carol Yeager says:

    I would also really appreciate getting your pre-semester checklist. I also make lists, but I haven’t saved my list from one semester to the next. I think this is an excellent idea!n I communicate some information with my laboratory students through emails. Since these emails contain about the same information from semester-to-semester,I’ve found that saving the content of the emails to Word documents saves me from having to reconstruct the same emails each semester.
    Thanks, Carol

    • Right, good point, there are lots of efficiencies in saving emails like that. It’s a great idea, especially if you’re organized enough to (a) remember that they exist and (b) find them when you need them!

  44. Kelly says:

    Please send me a copy of your list. As I am, by nature, not an organized person, I can use all the help I can get! Thank you so much!

  45. Laurie Key says:

    I would love to see your check list. I am always open to new ideas to make my job less daunting.

  46. Luda says:

    Would love to have that list.

  47. Rhonda says:

    I would like to see your list and share it with my new faculty. We have a mentoring program that goes through weekly lists of things to do to learn the campus but nothing classroom specific.

  48. Vicki Ingalls says:

    I would like a copy as well, thanks!

  49. Tonya Bates says:

    I would love to have a copy of your list!

  50. Laila Nimri, Ph.D. says:

    Would you kindly send me a copy of your list. Thank you.

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