I was less than two-thirds of the way through my first six-month sabbatical when I began a very gradual transition back to university teaching.
I’ll be teaching an MA-level contemporary Canadian public policy course to active practitioners again this year, and if that particular syllabus is not as current as possible, I’ll not only have a hard time making a credible impression in the classroom, but I’ll also fail to provide my students with the learning opportunity that they both deserve and expect.
Since the course starts in mid-August, and the Canadian Forces College’s administrative process requires that my syllabus be (for all intents and purposes) complete three months before it begins, I have to start my revisions well in advance.
I had been making progress with my research, so I worried initially that turning back to my teaching responsibilities would interrupt my rhythm.
In my efforts to decide how to deal with this challenge, I identified three options:
- Put off the teaching for as long as possible and then completely immerse myself in it at the last possible moment;
- Dedicate a specific time each week to my curricular responsibilities until my most pressing obligations had been fulfilled (in other words, Friday would be teaching day);
- Spend a little bit of time each day (that I’m in the office) making incremental progress on my syllabus revisions.
Each of us will be most comfortable with a different option (and some might propose a fourth that I haven’t thought of), and I don’t think there’s a ‘right’ approach, but I chose the third one.
Given the importance that I attach to small measures of accomplishment, assigning myself a doable, a daily teaching task has met my personal and professional needs.
I feel a sense of achievement every day and, bit by bit, my syllabus is starting to come into form.
I haven’t yet allowed myself to spend much more than an hour in any given day on my teaching, but the daily routine has generated momentum that seems to be making me more efficient every week.
I also use the teaching time as a mental break, which adds a level of variety to my day that I’m quite enjoying.
It’s worth noting that I’ve continued to keep myself away from the day-to-day responsibilities of college life even while at the office, so I anticipate that there will nonetheless be some fairly significant culture shock when I lose some of the freedom provided to me by my sabbatical.
I hope, however, that this incremental approach will temper some of the challenges of the adjustment period and allow me to reintegrate into my departmental community more quickly.