Happy first day, everyone!

It’s that time of year, and many college teachers are gearing up for a busy Fall term. If you’re like me, you’ve got plenty to do – multiple courses means plenty of new faces to get to know. I’m teaching a variety of courses from Video Production to Digital Communication to Social Media for Business, to all different age groups too. Add to that some new administrative duties I’m taking on for one of the programs I am teaching in, and top this off with the fact that this is my part time job, and it’s possible to be a little overwhelmed.

When I undertook a higher teaching load this Fall, I knew I’d need to be super organized to make it all work. I’ve been busy preparing myself over the past several weeks, and I thought I’d share a few tips on how I’m planning to manage it all.

Manage Your Schedule
With 12 hours of classroom time per week on my agenda (not including my online courses), I knew it was going to be critical to make sure that I had all of my lesson plans and materials completed in advance, and scheduled out, so that instead of chasing my tail to create or update material each week, I’d just have to look at my calendar to know what I’m supposed to be teaching at any given time. I am using an app called iStudiez Pro, which is actually designed more for students but works well for teachers too. It syncs across my iMac, iPad and iPhone and allows me to poke in schedules, assignment due dates, lessons, lectures and class activities for each class I’m teaching. That way, on any given day, I can simply refer to my iStudiez app from whatever device I’m using, and know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m also syncing this with my Google Calendar so I’m reminded of any critical dates such as assignment due dates. (Note: I just learned that the people at iStudiez are coming out with a teacher app called iTeacherBook – I’m excited!)

Schedule everything – in fact, over-schedule – because you can always change things around if you need to. If it’s in your calendar, it’s not floating around in your brain stressing you out and it’s not going to be forgotten.

Manage Your Files
If you’re like me, you’ve got course materials coming out your ears. Presentations, video tutorials, handouts, assignments and rubrics – all of these things are critical to a successful class. I used to carry everything around with me on the hard drive of my computer, with a USB stick as backup. I can’t tell you how many times I ended up with the wrong version of something, and I was already at campus so couldn’t fix it. (Remember, I’m a part-timer so don’t have an office or computer on campus – I must do all my prep at home then bring it with me to class.) Then I discovered Dropbox and my life changed.

Now I keep all my files for each course in it’s own neatly organized folder on Dropbox, and I can access it whenever I need it. Dropbox lets you sync folders across computers anywhere, so that means I can review my presentation on my iPad or iPhone anywhere, anytime, and I can call up whatever I need either on my own laptop or on the school’s computer. If you’re not using Dropbox, set it up today. You get 2GB of space for free which is ample, and you’ll never have the wrong version of your presentation again.

Manage Your Students
I just did a tally and I will have about 115 students this term across my full time program, online and hybrid courses. I figure that’s pretty average for any teacher with a part time load like me. Still, it’s a lot of people to manage. Each student has individual needs, learning styles and requires a certain amount of my attention. Often, they seem to all want that attention at once, too!

Rather than get overwhelmed with an influx of requests for help, I do a lot to set the expectations with my students right from the beginning. I hold virtual office hours every week, in which I’m available online for one on one or group chats. I let students know that if they email me they can expect a reply within 24 hours (that helps them plan ahead too). I let them know that if their question is quick they can reach me on Twitter. And I also tell them to post their question (if it’s course-related and not personal) to the class Facebook group or our Discussion Forum Q and A section, so that others can benefit from the response (and in some cases other students are even able to answer the question before I get to it.)

When school is in session, I start every day by catching up on any messages, emails, forum posts etc. that I need to deal with right away. Then I move on to other tasks such as checking student blog posts and interacting in the online community. I usually take about an hour every morning, 5 days a week for that. When it comes to marking assignments, which often takes longer than an hour, I schedule it in my calendar well in advance, blocking off ample focused time to complete the task.

Most importantly, I make myself available before and after class so that students can approach me in person if they have questions or concerns. I deal with each student and issue one at a time, and put all my focus on helping one person (or group) before moving on to the next.

Ultimately, managing the administrative and organizational tasks behind teaching a course will help you to be less stressed and able to focus better on your students and what they are learning. That’s my goal this year, anyway.

What are some ways you stay on top of your school year?

[photo by threephin]