I enjoy lecturing. I wanted to make that clear at the start. I do enjoy lecturing.
But, as I sit writing my very last lecture for the year (and my fellowship) I have to be honest: I am suffering from lecture fatigue.
Many of the difficulties I faced were of my own making. I undertook a great deal of teaching, redesigned a module I had never taught before into a series of unconventional topics, and centred my assessments around the application of case studies to general trends. Writing appropriately pitched lectures was never going to be easy. Yet, as I transcribe scribbled notes into neat bullet points on illustrated Power Point slides, I find myself feeling particularly fatigued.
As far as I can see, the problem is as follows:
- My spring term lectures focused very narrowly on narrative, political history.
- The amount of time covered in these lectures was disproportionate to the amount of lectures I had to cover them.
- They related to topics that most of my students had studied previously, in some form or another.
- Upcoming assessments had decimated lecture attendance.
The first point was, perhaps, avoidable. I had chosen, of my own free will, to start and conclude the modules with chronological overviews because I believed it would help my students conceptualise the module in a more concrete way. Nor, do I have anything in particular against chronological, political history. Instead, it is simply that both my modules became particularly chronological at the same time, leading to a general ennui of names and dates. It is, in fact, point two that is most pressing, as it prevents me from indulging in asides and case studies, which I find particularly enjoyable. All this is compounded by point three, which presents a frustrating dilemma: do I move quickly, assuming they have already mastered the basic themes, or do I move slowly and risk glazed looks of ‘not another lecture on the French Revolution!’
In the end, however, these three points are all simply growing pains, which will become less daunting as time progresses and my understanding of previous knowledge and student interest solidifies. What is more concerning is point four.
I do not generally dwell upon negative experiences here. This is mainly because I am, at heart, a very cheerful person. Today, however, will be an exception.
I arrived at my penultimate lecture today to find a mere five students staring back at me; a sixth wandered in a few minutes late.
I realise that final assessments are pressing and students are apt to feel burnt-out come May, but I was really quite despondent. I am not easily jaded by such experiences but I could not fathom how nearly 30 students, most of whom had complained loudly about the paucity of contact hours, had all chosen to absent themselves from what I had hoped would be a very interesting lecture.
Should I be enraged? Should I punish future students for the sins of their predecessors?
No. I love history and value education too much to engage in such petty recriminations. Instead, I will present the following look at my life as a teaching fellow and hope that future students will spare a passing thought to the efforts their lecturers put into each and every day at university.
During an average week I spend:
7 hours in housework and home management
19 hours preparing meals and eating
23 hours with my family and friends
49 hours sleeping
8 hours commuting to and from university
7 hours in university administration (including student emails)
14 hours preparing teaching material
18 hours teaching
3 hours in office hours
8 hours reading for lectures, upcoming publications and conference papers
12 hours marking essays and exam scripts
This means that on an average day (weekends included) I spend 9 hours on my teaching, 1 on my research, 7 sleeping (if I am lucky) and 7 for everything else in my life.
So, dear student, next time you think you can’t spare an hour to hear me speak, please reconsider.
*Image courtesy of Graham Binns