August and early September very much form the in between time of academic years for me (UK, teaching winter/spring semesters, no significant summer teaching). It feels like an extended version of the days between Christmas and New Year with a list of things that would be good to do, the desire to take some time off. It’s different though because it extends over several weeks, the weather is allegedly better, and there are fewer big feasts and definitely fewer gifts to buy for people.
The here and now is the end of the in between and the early stages of ramping up to semester. The weather is not particularly compliant with this – it’s sunny and cool – I’d rather be outside tidying up the garden or walking than preping lecture notes for the dark days ahead in November. No matter how much I prepare, I still feel the acute culture shock of the first week of term: the sudden surge of people on campus; recalibrating lunch and snack times to avoid queues; being governed by a timetable; the greater flux of people at the office door… I find the ascent into summer an equal yet opposite culture shock: the decline in people on campus; having lunch and snacks at times that fit with a more gentle ebb and flow indicated by a lack of formal timetabling; the quieter spells in the office…
My to do list for the coming semester is long. Many of the tasks are routine yet so time consuming; it surprises me each year how long it takes to set up a VLE page for a module and review all the standard paperwork to put up on it. Making the small changes here and there to clarify wording on assessment guidelines, tweaking parts of lectures to hopefully enhance comprehension and flow. Oh who am I trying to kid? Due to intrinsic and extrinsic factors, most lectures are getting a lot more than a gentle tweaking this year. Again. I try to cycle through my courses, investing a little more time in one each year, a little less in the others. I’m not talking total rewrites but I think to keep things fresh and engaging, it’s a necessary process. This year, however, there are changes to something that’s worked really well for several years – I am required to assess more by examination – and I think I need to adapt things more extensively. I’m also trying to win the battle over a course that has just been tweaked for several years and turn it into something I might actually enjoy teaching rather than view as an act of penance dictated by an older view of what a chemistry curriculum looks like.
There are parts of the forthcoming academic year that I am genuinely looking forward to, and parts I am genuinely dreading. But that’s the way it goes.