A Teacher Without a Classroom

I’ve been facilitating learning and managing a classroom at the post-secondary level, in some capacity or another, since 2001, when I became a peer mentor at Carleton University’s Centre for Initiatives in Education. That’s eighteen years of teaching, almost non-stop. I took one semester off teaching at the beginning of my PhD, before figuring out that teaching was the entire point of being there for me, and I took five semesters off when my son was born, thanks to a creative Dean and the clever stacking of PD semesters. So that’s 16 years of teaching in 18 years, and for nine of those years I was also a student. I’m 36 years old. It would be surprising if my identity wasn’t wrapped up in post-secondary teaching and learning.

In my new role as Coordinator of Educational Technologies, I’m still facilitating learning, of course, but it’s definitely different. It’s the beginning of term, and I’m brand new to the role, so my job for the last two-ish weeks has been split between getting oriented to a new campus, supporting our LMS, and playing with cool toys. I’m terrible at the first one (so much anxiety), surprised by how much I enjoy the second one (we use a ticketing system that I find extremely satisfying), and loving the third one (obviously). But none of that is hands-on classroom prep, and it’s August 28th, and I have no reason to go to Staples, and it’s weird.

(Just kidding. There’s always a reason to buy school supplies. Pure joy, if nothing else.)

I lost a lot of sleep about moving into this role and the idea of not being a full-time teacher. I have spent a lot of my career sitting in PD sessions led by people who haven’t mucked into a classroom in twenty years, and I’ll tell you, I’ve had a hard time taking those folks seriously. If your really cool learning innovations don’t take into account institutional policies, the dynamics of a particular student population, and faculty workload, they aren’t of much practical value. I worry about getting so far away from the classroom that I forget that the tools are meant to serve students and be used by actual human beings juggling 4/4 teaching loads and worrying about course transfer and articulation. I also want to know these students at this institution so I can support their faculty effectively. This knowledge is transferable, but it isn’t without context.

I also, y’know, have a research specialty. And I’m pretty darn good at teaching it. (Canadian comic books, if’n you were wondering.) And I already miss it.

I don’t know the answer to any of this, though the folks here know I have an eye to folding some kind of undergraduate classroom teaching into my workload somehow eventually. I know I also need to take the time to learn how to do this job well, and that this is an operational question for a few years down the road. But I hope the fact that I’m thinking about it now keeps me honest.

There are some pretty great things about a desk job at a university, though the part where I sit at a desk all the time is extremely strange. I’m home for dinner every night. I’m playing around at work in the evenings because I’m excited to learn H5P, not because I have 25 essays to grade in three days. And I’m getting to think about the big questions for more of my day. I’m actually starting to read the stack of SoTL books and articles I’ve amassed. These are all good things.

It’s different. It’s good different, but it’s different. And I miss my students already. But I think it’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun, too.

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