I survived my first semester as a faculty member!

Hard to believe it is already December!

Before starting the Fall 2013 semester I was told by many colleagues that the semester would go by so fast, it was going to feel like a blur at the end of the semester. I was a bit reluctant! But now that is all said and done, I have to say that it went by faster than expected.

One of the things that was a bit harder to do in this new academic environment was the adjustment to teaching night-time classes. In all honesty, I am all about cooking dinner with my significant other, decompressing at the dinner table, a nice evening walk and then some work. I have managed to figure it out. I combined working from home, working from the office, teaching a few classes in a hybrid format and teaching other classes completely face to face. I figured that if most of my students were able to do a 8 hour job and then make it to a 6 to 9 pm class, then I could do it too. It does make the days I have nights off and weekends even more special.

Another adjustment this past semester was the amount of email that I had to manage and all the work that comes with it. While I was in the doctoral program, I received a moderate amount of email related mostly to my dissertation. I also received email related to service at my professional organization. But between the students, the department, the college, the university, professional organizations, and every one else that decided to email me at some point in time, email was at times a major consumption of productivity. I am starting to think it should be part of self evaluations (how much time did you spend replying to emails during the semester?). I guess I have improved my emailing skills and management of emails.

Of course, the biggest adjustment is finding the balance between research, teaching, and service. I am not going to claim that I found it because I would be lying. I had, as recommended by several colleagues, designated a writing day for the week. However, I was not able to keep up with it. I still managed to get conferences proposals written and a few manuscript to a decent level. But I really wish I could immerse myself in writing a bit more. It is still “work in progress.”

A few other things to keep in mind if you are going into your first semester as a faculty member are:

  • Meetings take a chunk of your time: Days in which I had meetings (that were longer than an hour) were the most challenging. I tried hard to prepare in advance but I always was catching up after the meetings right until the 6 pm class. This had mainly to do with my personal and class schedule. Since most meeting started around 11:30 am , I would have to cut short work time in the morning and catch up with work in the afternoons.  Although, I am glad that the meetings are mainly around 11am since I have stay around campus for 6pm classes.
  • Be prepare to explain your grading criteria and assigned grades: We need to create a culture of “constructive feedback” in the classroom. I know that grades and points are important but what I really like is a focus on creativity, higher order thinking skills and problem solving. I like to see assignments in two ways: what was done correctly and what can be improved. I remember that when I was working on my dissertation I would asked my significant other to just criticize my work as if I was his worst enemy. But I know that sometimes it difficult to received that constructive feedback. After all, that student just spent a few sleepless nights working on it. I do have to say that once I explain my grading criteria students see it with a very different mindset.

Overall, reflecting on my first semester, I am still learning how the academic systems works. But, I am happy to be part of the UT family and to be a Floridian (the sunshine state!). One of the nicest comments I received at the end of the semester on a one on one meetings was when I student said “Dr. Romero-Hall you are a great addition to the UT IDT program, I want to take the rest of the classes with you! I really appreciate your honest feedback.” So, I guess I must be doing something right 🙂

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