Looking Back on My First Year of Teaching

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While I often reflect every semester of teaching, I thought it would be fun to look back on the previous year as a whole. In other words, let’s take a look back at my first year of teaching. But first, I recommend checking out the three reflections I’ve already written:

Of course, I’ll be reviewing everything below, so feel free to jump ahead.

Table of Contents

Overview

In case you haven’t read any of my reflections, I figured I’d share a bit about the courses I taught over the past year.

For starters, I taught two classes: CSE 1223 and CSE 2221. In my first two semesters, I taught CSE 1223 which is an introductory programming course in Java for pre-majors and non-majors. Then, I moved into a training position as a grader for CSE 2221 which is a software components course for pre-majors.

Over the course of three semesters, I graded somewhere around 1000 projects, 800 labs, 800 homework assignments, and 240 exams. In addition, I worked with almost 120 students over 40 weeks for a total of roughly 280 contact hours. That’s a lot of work!

In terms of compensation, I was contracted for about $20,000 a year before taxes, not including summers. With the addition of summers, I made roughly another $5,000. On top of that, I was guaranteed several benefits including a tuition waver, healthcare, vision, and dental.

Ultimately, I’ve been teaching for about a year now, and I plan to continue teaching indefinitely.

Delights

At this point, I want to talk about some of the things I loved about teaching this past year.

The Feedback

One of the things I really liked about teaching was getting real-time feedback on my work. If students didn’t understand something, they’d let you know. In fact, some of my favorite instances of feedback came during one-on-one interactions during labs and office hours. If something wasn’t clear, I always had a chance to start over.

In addition, my students were always great at filling out any feedback surveys I sent them. For instance, each semester I sent out a Google Form for feedback which I wrote about in my regular reflections. Likewise, students were asked to fill out a Student Evaluation of Instruction each semester, and those were always a joy to get back.

Here are some of my favorite bits of feedback from the last year:

I really enjoy [Jeremy’s] teaching style. [He] seemed to actually enjoy teaching which seems to be a rare occurrence. I felt like [he] tried to teach so that I actually understood Java which I think is the most important thing. I enjoyed the coding tangents where [he] would detail some of how java is used in the real world.

Tony, Fall 2018

I thought that Professor Grifski did really well teaching the class. I came into Java without having any coding background while nearly half of my class already did. However, he still spent time going through each detail which quickly allowed me to catch up. Despite the numerous times that I emailed him questions, he answered promptly and patiently. I also really appreciated the fact that he didn’t simply assign grades to our assignments, but provided comments that would point out mistakes and how they could be corrected and avoided in the future.

Anonymous, Fall 2018

I appreciated [Jeremy’s] availability in both office hours and labs. I could tell [he was] passionate about teaching the class and that rubbed off on me trying to learn the material. Having a teacher/professor that enjoys their work makes a contagious atmosphere and makes the class more enjoyable for everyone in the classroom.

Anonymous, Spring 2019

Honestly, Professor Grifski may hands down be the best professor I had this semester. He truly cared about his students not only learning the material but the “how and why” of coding. Its only now that we begin to talk about Objects and Classes that he seems to light up more. I believe the more theoretical the coding gets, the more he enjoys it. He gives students the benefits of the doubt and pushes them to think for the answer rather than giving it to them. I hope he teaches more upper level classes in CSE so I can schedule him.

Anonymous, Spring 2019

Excellent knowledge resource. I found myself listening intently every time anyone of close proximity asked [Jeremy] a question, and picked up a lot of good information that way.

Anonymous, Summer 2019

Sometimes it’s nice to be able to look back on these bits of feedback when I’m having a bad day.

The Light Bulb Moments

I’m sure every teacher says this, but I live for that light bulb moment. In particular, I like seeing students suddenly understand a concept during a lecture or lab.

As a developer myself—in both the StrengthsQuest and the coding sense of the word—I understand what it’s like to struggle through new concepts. As a result, I take great satisfaction in being able to ease the cognitive load a bit for students.

Over the past three semesters, I’m not sure I’ve seen the light bulb moment often, but I can think of a few students who have appreciated my time the most. In general, these are students that I see regularly in labs and office hours who have an insatiable curiosity. In many cases, they want to know more than they need to know to get through the class, and that’s always satisfying as a teacher. After all, isn’t that how education is supposed to work?

At any rate, I’m looking forward to many more light bulb moments as I refine my teaching skills.

The Temporal Volatility

You may recall that one of the reasons I left industry is the predictability. In other words, there were really no (good) surprises in industry. For example, I always knew exactly when I was going to clock in, and I could assume roughly when I would clock out. And, that reality never changed.

One of the things I missed about academia was the volatility. In other words, I missed having a schedule which didn’t follow the 9-5 grind. After all, variety is the spice of life.

Now that I’m back in it, I have to say that I really love the volatility. In particular, there’s nothing more refreshing than know that a semester will eventually end. As a result, I always have something to look forward to: change.

Obviously, volatility isn’t for everyone, but I love it! In fact, I sometimes wish there was a bit more volatility—particularly spatial volatility. For example, I wish there was a little bit of travel involved in my job. I’d love to give guest lectures around the globe.

All that said, I can’t really complain. The regular change of scenery is really nice, and I wouldn’t give that up for almost anything.

Frustrations

As much as I’d love to say that teaching is always amazing, I’d absolutely be lying. There are parts of the job that I haven’t loved as well.

The Pay

If we’re looking strictly at monetary compensation, I’m contracted for 20 hours a week for about 15 weeks a semester. Over the course of a year, that would be about 30 weeks of work at a rate of about $33 an hour (20,000 dollars/year ÷ 30 weeks/year ÷ 20 hours/week).

Of course, by the time I see the paychecks, they’re about $1,600 a month or more like $20 an hour on the high end. While that’s nothing really to complain about, I do feel like its not enough money to live on considering that I have to stretch that over a year. If I’m unlucky enough not to score a summer job, I have to stretch the money even more.

Also, I know I’ve complained about this quite a bit, but people in my field can make significantly more money in industry. For instance, I was making about $75,000 a year before I quit which is about $36 an hour. And when I went home, I didn’t bring my work with me. Now, I work all the damn time.

To me, it just seems silly that universities act like they’re doing you a service for waving tuition (which is already unreasonably high) and for letting you do PhD quality work for next to nothing. And when I do research on the subject, I get a lot of that toughen up bullshit from elitists in the field.

To make matters worse, I probably work close to 100 hours a week where a third of that is just teaching. How am I supposed to survive on $20,000 a year when I’m working enough to earn an order of magnitude more than that. That said, I wouldn’t be caught dead going back into industry.

The Disrespect

Unlike most people in power, I don’t really get any joy out of being in control. That said, I do appreciate respect, and I always extend it to my students. Unfortunately, it’s not always reciprocated.

Over the past three semesters, I can think of at least 3 students who tried to manipulate me in some way to get what they wanted. In many cases, these were students who didn’t regularly attend classes or office hours but wanted breaks when things didn’t go their way.

As a teacher, this can be really frustrating. After all, I try to accommodate everyone’s needs, but some students clearly just want to game the system. For instance, I’ve had students try to work around me by going to my superior or leveraging the fact that I have a superior to get what they want. It’s like the student embodiment of the phrase “I want to talk to the manager.

In general, however, as long as I extend respect to my students, they tend to extend it back to me. Thankfully, I’ve had to deal a lot less with disrespect than you’d think.

The Authority

As long as I can remember, my parents treated me like an adult, so I can’t stand it when someone treats me like a kid. Naturally, I thought the move into academia would grant me more of the autonomy I crave, and for the most part I was right. That said, I still run into the occasional micromanager.

Over the past three semesters, I have had control over everything except the course content. Of course, I’m totally fine with teaching the material that is given to me. What I don’t like is someone telling me how to do my job.

To be honest, this hasn’t been much of an issue because no one really has the time to micromanage their underlings. That said, I have experienced a few ugly conversations with some professors over how I’ve chosen to handle my classroom.

To me, the worst part about being managed is the lack of room for dissent. After all, the power dynamic essentially guarantees that any sort of dissonance will go poorly for the managed—not the manager. In my case, fighting with a professor could result in reduced opportunities with other professors as word gets around the department. As a result, it’s to my advantage to do what I’m told, and that just doesn’t mesh well with my personality.

Fortunately, I haven’t run into this nearly to the extent that I’ve experienced it in industry. That said, it’s something I will forever despise.

Here’s to Many More Years of Teaching

With my first year of teaching out of the way (ignoring some undergraduate teaching and grading I’ve done in the past), I’m happy to say that I like the gig. It sure beats being strapped to a desk 40 hours a week.

At any rate, time to make my usual plug for support. In particular, I’d love it if you jumped on bandwagon and become a member of The Renegade Coder community. If not, at least hop on the mailing list, so I can pester you once a week with links to my latest articles.

Likewise, here are a few books for folks who might be interesting in teaching:

While you’re here, you might want to check out the rest of the reflections:

These articles go quite a bit more in depth than I did here, so I recommend reading them if you have the time. Each article is just over 3000 words, so there’s a lot to digest.

If nothing else, thanks for stopping by! I appreciate the support, and I hope you’ll come back in the future.

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