A New Book for a New Semester

Andrea Francis, Psychological Sciences

This has been a rough semester.

I have heard this from nearly every colleague and student. And at this point in the semester, after grading papers for ten hours straight only to realize I forgot that one recommendation that is due tomorrow and I need get those revisions on that article done by next week, I ask myself if is it worth the exhaustion. Should I figure out how to do less next semester? And if so, what corners can I cut?

Then students begin to hear back about getting into graduate school and old students contact me out of the blue to tell me how I touched their lives. My students start getting jobs and I go to their weddings. And I know that those corners I was considering cutting, like one-on-one weekly meetings with students and the extensive feedback on draft after draft of a paper, are not the corners I can cut.

So, if I can’t cut those corners, what can I do to make the next “rough semester” easier for myself? When I go through the list, if feels like everything I am doing is either too important to cut or not something I am willing to give up. So rather than thinking, “how can I make it easier for myself?” I began to shift my mindset to “how can I make it more interesting for myself?” In other words, rather than cut corners, how can I make my school-life canvas more fun?

One answer that I have been toying with is routinely forcing myself to change the book that I use for at least one of my courses each semester – or in more extreme cases – dumping the book altogether and putting together journal article readings instead. The need to change and update the curriculum has become increasingly important with the constantly changing demographics of our incoming students. Therefore, to force myself to rethink the overall structure of my Introductory Psychology course, I switched the book that I had been using for the last ten years.

With the familiar book, I had started to rely on knowing each lecture by heart and walking in and automatically teaching what I had taught for so long – the easy method. Now, each lecture is new – and in the process of writing each new lecture I realized just how outdated and non-representative many of my examples were. I realized that some of the assignments I gave were ones that I had gotten from colleagues and had been using for years. I wrote new assignments and new exams. I made some mistakes – for example, next time I will change the order of some the topics and I will have students take a different number of exams. But, in general, this has been one of my favorite semesters of teaching Introductory Psychology. I enjoy the students and feel that the lectures and course design are truly mine now. It has been fun.

This has been a rough semester. Yes. It has also been a semester of change. And rather than focusing on making life easier – I don’t think it is going to easier – I have found it helpful to shift to a mindset that focuses on making the everyday activities more fun.