Losing Teaching Materials Is Good For You

Broken_USB DriveOver the holiday break my flash drive broke. It had malfunctioned and my laptop could not read it’s contents. There was actually nothing wrong with the data itself. The USB connector popped off. I’ve gone through several flash drives in my years as a writer. Generally, I lose them or the data gets corrupted (Thanks, Apple). The USB connector breaking was a first for me.

I took the flash drive to Geek Squad and before I could even finish my question, the agent told me to throw the thing away. Google tells me otherwise, but okay . . . The data is still there on the flash drive; I just can’t access the data without the USB connector.

Of course, I’m awful with backing up my files. There are fragments on my Google Drive and what I have on my external hardrive dates back three years. Luckily, the most essential files I created–my master’s thesis, my CCCC proposal, the seminar paper I will present in Houston this year, and my short stories–are saved in the cloud. Which is why I’m not totally bummed about being cut off from my work.

But I am bummed that I lost most of my teaching materials from this past fall. The syllabus, core assignments and schedules are saved in the university’s learning management system; but the small in-class and homework activities, the golden nuggets of my creative thinking, are gone. I shouldn’t feel too bad about this: most of that stuff I created a day before I had to teach but I still put work into those activities.

It’s very tempting to recycle the same assignments I did last Fall, and more than likely I would have done just that. My course evaluations were good, so I’m less motivated to make drastic changes: based on my own self-reflection, I could tweak a few assignments, replace one genre of writing for another and be clearer with my instructions. Losing access to my flash drive, however, removed complacency. It reminded me of my teaching philosophy–that teaching is the new creative writing for me. The energy I put into stories I put into my teaching, and like any good artist, I shouldn’t settle. I should push myself to be better. My entire career thus far has been a journey of perfecting my teaching and myself as a human being through teaching. To recycle the same stuff is to contradict what I believe my teaching should be.

Thus, the destruction of one thing leaves space for new life, and losing my data is no different here. Instead of lamenting my loss, I’ve begun to use this opportunity to be creative and reinvent the class as best possible.

I’m tempted to suggest that all teachers delete their teaching materials at the end of the semester. Or bury your files several folders deep, so you’re deterred from sifting through them. If you’re teaching the same class next semester, consider starting over. Don’t even recall what you did before. Pretend that this is the first time you’ve taught the class. Of course, keep the signature moves you make in your teaching, the moves that give personality to your class (I start my course with students throwing a ball of yarn across the classroom). Keep your self-reflections and your course evaluations handy, but don’t let the materials control your revision. You need some distance to rework a course with creativity–take time off, yes, but also make the files inaccessible.

But don’t be ashamed if you cave and go right back to those old materials. I won’t look down on you! Teaching is hard. Teaching while getting a PhD is hard.  But relishing in the fragments of teaching materials (or in my case, relishing in no teaching materials at all), can lead to creative instruction and a jumpstart to enjoying teaching.

Published by aabyrd

I'm the instructor for WCATY's Media Studies in a Digital Age course for Summer 2015.

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