Philip Guo (Phil Guo, Philip J. Guo, Philip Jia Guo, pgbovine)

Logistics of Teaching Large Courses: Part 1. high-level mindsets

Before diving into the nitty-gritty, I want to cover three high-level mindsets that will be important throughout your teaching.


If you remember only one thing from here, remember the word fairness. If your students or teaching staff ever suspect you of being unfair in any way, of playing favorites, of bending the rules for some but not for others, or (in the worst case!) of exhibiting discrimination or bias against certain groups of students, then that sentiment will quickly spread via word-of-mouth. So whenever you need to make logistical decisions throughout the term, always abide by this guiding principle of fairness. Think about what will be the most fair to the most students. This is easier said than done, though, because of the following ...

Expect the unexpected

No matter how well you plan, new and unexpected events will come up every single time you teach. With hundreds of students, rare events will happen every term, and super-rare events will happen once every few years. Always expect the unexpected.

How will you respond if a student tells you that their relative is extremely sick, or if they've been in deep distress, or if a classmate (or member of your teaching staff) is behaving abusively, or if some other tragedy strikes during the term? When is it OK to grant special exceptions for some students but not for others, due to truly extenuating circumstances or special needs? And how do taking those actions fit with the above concept of fairness? These are all hard questions that you'll likely need to face.

Take care of yourself

This should go without saying, but you need to do whatever is necessary to preserve your own mental and physical health. If you're not doing well yourself, then you can't be at your best in serving your students and teaching staff.

Whenever something during the term upsets you or causes anxiety, reflect on how you can make things better for yourself while still remaining fair to your students and staff. You're in charge of your course, so you can make adjustments as needed. I can't predict exactly what will cause you distress, but I can tell you that in your interactions with hundreds of students, something will throw you off balance. Again, expect the unexpected.

Finally, set boundaries for when you're willing to work on teaching-related tasks; otherwise the work will expand to fill all your available time. With hundreds of students and up to a dozen or more teaching staff, someone will always be messaging you about some urgent thing that seems to be on fire at the moment. You need to decide when you're willing to respond to this nonstop flurry of inbound requests. Is it OK for you to be replying to forum posts late at night? Or on weekends? But what if it's right before an assignment is due? And what if someone discovered a critical typo in your assignment that's getting many students distressed? Should you jump in to fix it ASAP? I can't tell you what your personal boundaries should be; you need to decide for yourself.

Next part: Logistics of Teaching Large Courses: Part 2. recruiting your teaching staff

(see all parts)

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Created: 2018-12-22
Last modified: 2018-12-22
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