The Balancing Act of the Large Lecture Class

For any of us who have taught large lecture classes (let’s say 100+ students), we are all too familiar with the huge demands on our time and energy. I regularly teach of class of 200+ students, which for me breaks down (on average) to:

  • 6-7 hours of office hours/appointments with students/week
  • 6-10 hours of class prep/week (usually more, but I’m being conservative)
  • c. 2000 emails a semester (no joke; this past semester I had over 3000!)
  • untold hours of grading–so much grading and re-grading

I’m surely forgetting other elements that require my time, but you get the point. It is an incredible amount of work. And if you are like me, I spend way too much time thinking about how to teach it. It’s an obsession really. Outside of all the time I just spend on the nuts&bolts of the class, I spend hours and hours reading about ways I can energize the class or thinking through new ideas. What games can I create? How can I write better exam questions? Are there in-class activities that will break up the long lecture? How can I distill these difficult ideas into more basic ones? How do I wake students up? Is technology harming or helping my class? Are these images good enough (c’mon, art historian over here)? Sometimes I don’t sleep because my overactive mind is spinning with ideas, questions, and email responses.

But here’s the thing: I’m not good at maintaining a healthy balance between this one all-consuming class, my other classes, my professional life more broadly, publishing, and my personal life. I currently have an 18-month old daughter and another baby on the way, and I adore my kid. I love to spend time with her, and I don’t want to miss bedtimes or other small moments because I’m too busy with my academic life. This past semester I felt I missed out on so many little moments because I often had to leave before she woke up or work on the weekends. The struggle is real. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do and do it well. I’ve been burning the candle at both ends for too long, and I really feel it.

So I am at a crossroads: how do I scale back on this big class without sacrificing  the quality of this large lecture class that I have invested so much time in? Are there simple ways I can reduce my time, save my energy, and still have a great, impactful class that allows me time for myself and my family more regularly? How can I say no more without feeling guilty? How can I stop feeling I have to hide being a mama to little one?

These are some of the questions I’ve been mulling over this summer as I try to think about how to better balance my life. I don’t think I have many answers to my questions yet, but I’ve started to brainstorm some concrete ways that I think I can reduce some of the physical and emotional stressors I’ve been experiencing. Here’s what I have so far:

  • use more objective questions on exams
  • learn how to write better objective questions for exams
  • carve out 30 minutes of me-time every day (is this possible?!)
  • write for one pomodoro (or 25 minutes) every day
  • develop a writing retreat with a friend or colleague every couple of weeks just to have companionship
  • create a type of group office hours in the cafeteria to reduce the one-on-one need
  • reduce the amount of written in-class activities for others that involve kahoot, clickers, or polleverywhere
  • train my daughter to answer emails

I’m hoping I think of some other creative solutions in the next couple of weeks. Time is so important, and I want to use mine more wisely.

For those of you who teach large lecture classes, what do you do to maintain balance in your life?

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