My trial policy of taking care of grading the instant everything is turned in is biting back today: the first cell bio exam was thrown over the transom last night. I have been locked to my desk this morning. Will continue until it’s done.

The good thing about this practice is that I don’t have work hanging over my head all the time to feed my anxiety. The bad thing is that it demands bursts of focused work.

The crunch begins

I have resolved that this year, I will get all student assignments graded within 24 hours of their scheduled due date. Guess what? First formal assignment was turned in yesterday for cell bio. I also had to compose a practice exam for Fundamentals of Genetics, Evolution, and Development, which was posted this morning and will be due on Monday.

I can tell already that my discipline is going to be murderous, requiring intense bouts of activity, since I won’t allow myself to drag things out over several days. Periodically intense pain vs. chronic pain? Which is worse? I’ll find out.

Yikes, low enrollments are a problem

I still have to do something about the lack of garish chemicals. They’re mostly clear or gray or cloudy.

Every fall I teach 3 lectures a week in cell biology, and it used to be 3 lab sections. We pared it back to two labs this year, and then…one of them was drastically under-enrolled, so we’re shifting everyone in it to our Wednesday afternoon lab. I’m only teaching one lab this year??!? Feels like cheating.

I’ve still got at least one class every weekday, but suddenly a big block of time opened up for the spiders, which is good. My first year classes are filling up, which probably means I’ll be back to the usual number of lab sections next year. If you want lots of one-on-one attention in biology, though, this is the year to be here.


All finals graded, grades submitted to the registrar, I’m gonna go take a walk. Later, y’all.

(I still have 4 term papers for the writing class to evaluate, but two of them earned an A in my preliminary assessment, so those are easy, and the other two will require a somewhat more thorough review. After I get some fresh air.)

Today is the day

It’s the last day of finals week. I have two final exams and a term paper due — and I foolishly made everything due at 6pm this evening. Everything. All at once. I am smart, S-M-R-T.

A few students have submitted their work early so I can try to get a leg up on all the grading. Grades are due on Monday, so there’s an absolute deadline to finishing up this semester.

It is all out of my hands now

My exams look nothing like this. I must be doing them wrong.

I’ve been giving open book, open notes, online exams with no proctors, no timing, nothin’ but “here’s some questions, have fun answering them” for the last few years, prompted in part by the pandemic. I like it this way. It de-emphasizes rote memorization and requires them to understand the concepts (it also requires me to ask questions that can’t be answered with a recitation or regurgitation.) I also encourage them to study together and collaborate on figuring it all out — although they are required to write answers in their own words, no copying and pasting.

Anyway, all of my final exams are now written and posted to our Canvas site, and I have nothing more to do. Until Friday at 6pm, that is, when all these exams come winging back to me, demanding my immediate attention.

I think I’ll go for a walk.

Will not achieve today’s goals

I had planned to get both of my finals written today, but only finished the one for introductory biology. Even at that, it was frustrating: I had a set length to reach, a reasonable number of questions, and I had so many I had to cut them back by half. Alternatively, I could have thrown lengthy essay questions at them that were worth only a half point each. I’m not that cruel.

The genetics final will have to wait until tomorrow morning, because it’s only 4pm and my brain is worn out.

Sorry, genetics students. You weren’t in a hurry for this, were you?

Welcome to the last week of the semester

Everything crashes together at the end of the term. It’s inevitable that everything comes due before everyone goes away, and it’s urgent that I get it all graded as fast as possible. So I set a deadline of 6pm tonight for the final lab report in genetics; then tomorrow at 6pm is the deadline for the last take-home midterm; and then the day after tomorrow is the last class session, which I’ve set aside for final grade assessment. Everything has to be done by Wednesday so everyone knows their semi-final status! The next couple of days are going to involve me sitting late at night staring at reports and exams on the screen.

I have two more lectures to give in introductory biology, one on examples of modern evo-devo research, and a final discussion of bioethics.

I won’t be done after that, though. I have to compose take-home final exams for genetics and the intro biology course, and get those formatted and submitted by Friday. Grading those will slap me in the face at the end of next week.

One bright spot in the endless misery of evaluation is that I’ve decided that Friday will be game day: I have a few decks of Clades and Ecologies and we’ll celebrate the last day of the semester with some fun.

I went back to high school for a day

On Wednesday, I’d had a little private pity party, moaning to myself how I really disliked my teaching schedule and would never do this again. You see, this semester, thanks to a sudden schedule change, I was teaching two very different classes back to back — I’d finish lecturing in genetics, and immediately have to swivel and scuttle off to teach introductory biology. I like to have a little break between my classes, a time to reorient myself, review the material, put my feet up, sip a little wine (OK, I don’t do the last bit, but I can dream.) I have been spoiled.

Thursday I was a guest at the local high school. Yikes. One class after the other, all day long. You get your lesson plan all mapped out well ahead of time, because once that first class launches at 8:25, you are on a fixed trajectory all day long, with only a few minutes between classes. Forget moments of reflection, don’t even think about the imaginary glass of wine, because a succession of students are going to march in and occupy your classroom.

I don’t think I could cope with teaching high school. Much respect to those who do — you are all overworked and underpaid.

On the positive side, though, it was a pleasant experience…for a day. Just a day at a time. The big difference between college and high school is that college students are generally so damned serious. They’re paying out big bucks and accumulating a substantial debt to be here, and classes are their job, while professors are the bosses armed with the scourges of exams. At the 7th and 10th grade classes, I started talking about spiders, hands were raised, students would spontaneously offer wild accounts of their spider experiences, they’d ask question after question, it would sometimes get a bit raucous. Their enthusiasm was wonderful.

Now how to get the college students that fired up…I think I’ll have to kill all the exams. Abolishing tuition would help, too. I’ll get right on that for next year.

By the way, I also got to peruse their textbooks, briefly. There’s been a change there: they weren’t using Miller & Levine anymore! They’d switch to something called Inspire Biology, which looked fine, but different: lots of short, choppy segments with exercises to make the students think, less of a narrative, more for short attention spans. That isn’t bad, I could see how you could use textbooks like that to customize how you teach.

They did still use the familiar Miller & Levine lab manual and praised it highly.

For those who don’t know, Miller & Levine’s Biology was, for many years, the ubiquitous text I’d see in every high school student’s backpack. It was kind of like Campbell Biology at the college level. I’m seeing a lot more textbook diversity in the last decade or two as publishers seem to have realized that owning the rights to a popular textbook is a cash cow. For them, not the authors.