Fall semester is in full effect here: stacks of syllabi cluttering my table, mountains of student emails to be answered: Can I drop your class? Can I add your class? Can I stay in your class if I can’t buy the books? The bookstore is out of your books, did you know? Should I take notes when I read because I never did that in high school because we didn’t really read textbooks but it sounded like in class you were saying we should do that. (Yes, I really got that email yesterday.)
I don’t always like the first week of classes—people are still dropping and adding, I feel like I have to talk about the syllabus but students don’t really retain the information, first years wander the campus slowly, trying to look cool, blocking traffic by meandering across the street while texting. But I had a lovely week in the classroom, despite the usual first week challenges, in part because I’m teaching so much new material this semester that even familiar standby classes like Intro to Gender Studies feel really fresh. Of my 3 classes, only one is technically a new prep (a class I have never taught before), but I’m using a new textbook and The Hunger Games in Intro, and I added a book about the history of feminism to my theory class and revamped the writing assignments.
All of which means my prep will be considerably more time intensive this semester: I have to read new material, pull together the web links and films, revise quizzes and exams, develop assignment guidelines. But instead of feeling weighed down by prep, I feel strangely invigorated. My to do list is miles long, and it has tedious everyday stuff like make attendance sheets, but it also has items like: Watch Persepolis again and see if the links to Reading Lolita in Tehran are strong enough to make it worth showing in class.
New prep is time consuming, but I admit, I find it strangely addictive. I love choosing books, thinking about the flow and connections of a course, pulling together the images and films and assignments that will push students to really dig in to the work. I love watching it come to life in the classroom, trying out new discussion questions, seeing how students respond. I’m energized by the challenge of having to really be present in the moment when I’m teaching because I haven’t seen students respond to these texts before. And sure, every once in a while something absolutely flops (I will never teach River Town by Peter Hessler again), but most days teaching new material leaves me tired in mind and body in the best possible ways.
A love for new prep has had practical benefits for me as well: my basic strategy as an adjunct has been to say yes to what I’m offered. I’ve prepped 10 classes in 3 departments in the 12 semesters I have been an adjunct. Gay life cycle? YES. Diversity in the US? YES. Women in the Developing World? YES. Full schedule, fat stacks of desk copies of new books in my mailbox. No worries that I won’t be able to get a section of my specialty at the right time on the right day to make my teaching schedule work with kindergarten and preschool and dance and gymnastics. I’ve had seasoned faculty tell me this is a great strategy to demonstrate my worth to the department(s); I’ve heard just the opposite as well, that I’m crazy to pour my time into prep for departments who aren’t going to be able to create a full time position for me, no matter how much they value my teaching. I think on some level, these are both probably true. But when I think about looking for an admin or advising position, I worry about losing the excitement and energy of new prep, the joy of knowing that in addition to the dishes and the laundry, Behind the Beautiful Forevers is waiting to be read and thought about and prepped for discussion. I would rather be watching Persepolis than doing most of what’s on my to do list today. Financially, it’s a black hole, but intellectually, it’s the best part of my week: what’s an adjunct who loves new prep supposed to do?