While thousands of students are preparing for the coming months of school by picking up books or gathering supplies, University of Wyoming professors are getting ready in their own way.
About 1,000 faculty members will teach anywhere from zero to four classes, depending on their discipline and title, university documents state. Some professors teach the same class every year to a new set of students, while others have a shifting schedule.
Nina McConigley, an assistant professor for the Honors Program, is beginning her first year as a tenure-track faculty member after spending two years as an adjunct professor.
“It feels really different (to be on tenure-track),” she said. “I’ve been here for a lot of sessions and have taught several classes, but it just feels different.”
McConigley previously taught honors classes, such as the introductory-level honors colloquium, which is again on her schedule.
“It’s easier to put together a class you have already taught,” she said.
Her second class — focusing on post-colonial literature — is new to her and more difficult to put together.
“I’m working on the syllabus, which I’ve still not completely finished,” she said. “I’ve been getting emails over the past few days from students asking ‘What is the first book we’ll be reading?’”
Other professors previously taught the class and gave McConigley their syllabi and advice, but she is still figuring out what would work best for her.
“I’d love to have someone Skype into my class while teaching their work,” she said about some authors she knows.
Of course, professors are working on classes throughout the summer, nailing everything down and finalizing their syllabi. McConigley’s summer class research featured a lot of reading to make sure assigned books would fit with the class.
“It’s such a different reading experience, reading books after waiting so many years from the first reading,” she said.
Michael Edson, who is starting his second year at UW as an English professor, is having more trouble switching between his summer research and his upcoming teaching responsibilities.
“Summer isn’t a vacation,” he says via email. “Humanities professors do research — and a lot of it happens between May and August. So one of the things that makes a new semester challenging is shifting gears and bringing that research energy, that energy of discovery, back to the classroom. It’s easy to write a syllabus. Modeling enthusiasm for inquiry and inspiring students — that takes work.”
Keeping students excited and interested about the class subject is one of the most important — and difficult — parts of putting together a class, said Anne Alexander, associate vice president of academic affairs.
“You have to ask, ‘How do I keep everyone engaged in the topic — what kinds of activities and assignments are going to help us so the students are understanding what we’re trying to teach,” she said.
Good planning and preparation is the key to keeping students excited and interested, Alexander said.
“You can’t just say, “I need to put out an assignment, it’s on my schedule,’” she said. “You have to really be intentional about what the assignment is going for and what students are supposed to be getting out of it, and that can be intimidating the first couple times you do it.”