I wrote my syllabus this morning, complete with assignment schedule. THREE WEEKS BEFORE THE FIRST DAY OF CLASS. A major accomplishment.
I usually wait until the very last minute to do this kind of thing. In fact, I can think of only two other times I've done my fall prep ahead of time. In the year 1994, I was expecting a baby, my fourth child, in the middle of the semester, and I knew that I wouldn't have a whole lot of energy after the heat of August sapped the strength out of my hugely pregnant body, so I did all my class prep in May, while I was in the happy high-energy phase of pregnancy and the weather was still cool. And last year, I was planning to spend two weeks on a whitewater raft trip and needed to get my work done ahead of time.
This year, I have neither a new baby or an exciting raft trip in my future, but we weren't able to go to go to camp this weekend – we stayed close to home to field phone calls from my mother-in-law and help her make the transition to her new living arrangement – so I figured I might as well get some work done so that I can relax and enjoy the rest of my summer.
One disadvantage of doing my fall prep way ahead of time is that I tend to be a bit unrealistic about fall semester. I'll look at the first week of October and say to myself, "Let's see. I'll have the students hand in this paper on Monday, I'll grade them on Tuesday, and I should be able to hand them all back on Wednesday, and I'll have Thursday to write." Because yeah, it is totally realistic to think that I will be able to grade 65 essays, writing careful inspiring comments on them, in a matter of hours on a single Tuesday at home.
On lazy summer days, though, I have this vision of myself turning into superwoman once the cooler fall weather gets here. I convince myself that a simple drop in temperature will turn me from sloth to overachiever. Sure, I will be turning papers back the same week they are handed in.
And I haven't met my students yet, so of course I imagine them participating in amazing discussions and writing fantastic papers. It's fun to write a syllabus for imaginary students and an imaginary superwoman teacher.
But once I finished the syllabus, I stopped to do the numbers. I will be assigning five formal papers, and 21 short response papers. Yes, I am sure 21 short papers seems like a lot, but I assign a short paper to go with every single reading. My official reason is that all that writing is good for the students. Mostly though, I don't have the patience to hold class with students who haven't done the reading. I hate when they do stupid things like try to discuss the title all class because yeah, they think somehow the teacher won't know that they haven't gotten beyond the title. It drives me nuts when I am prepared for class and they aren't.
Forcing students to write does force them to do the reading and to think about the reading. It also means that this fall I will read and respond to 2665 pages of student writing. I like to calculate these numbers so that I can repeatedly toss them into conversations with the academic dean. He's a scientist, and numbers are what get through to him. Those kind of numbers help stop anyone who has ideas about giving me another section to teach.
But they also serve to bring me back to reality.
And now I am going back into summertime sloth mode before I think about it too much.