Classes end this week at RU, and thus ends my semester of only two preps: since my other Renaissance colleague has been on leave, I've been teaching both Shakespeare classes. And though I don't find my usual three preps especially burdensome--and though I'm still teaching almost 75 students--I gotta tell ya: this schedule has been awesome.
I've always understood the number of preps one has--or, more precisely, the number of courses one teaches--to be correlated to the amount of weight one's institution places on research: if you have a 2/2 load, you're at a "research" institution, and scholarship is valued more highly than teaching; if you have a 3/3 load, teaching and research are supposed to be valued about equally; if you have a 4/4 or higher, teaching is really your institution's primary focus.
Now obviously this doesn't mean that there aren't people at teaching institutions who produce great scholarship, or that there aren't total slackers (or great teachers) at research schools; we all know both to be true. Still, I've understood the 2/2 load as being primarily about freeing up time for research.
But what do I find myself doing, with the modest amount of additional time I have this semester? Mostly, I've used it to re-read all 10 plays before teaching them, and to read a bit of Shakespeare scholarship: the better part of two books and perhaps a half-dozen articles. In other words, that extra time is allowing me to be a better teacher.
I rarely do much course prep during the semester, having taken to heart the lesson that it will eat up all one's time if one lets it. When I design a new class, I spend a lot of time over the previous summer or winter constructing the syllabus and assignments, and I often do a fair amount of background reading to get my own knowledge and preparation up to snuff. But during the actual semester, there's no time for that. Even with new classes I usually complete my readings and lesson plans at the last minute, and with repeat classes I reuse lesson plans (or scrap and alter them on the fly), and I reread perhaps 40% of the texts. This is how I make sure I have time for my research, but not only for my research: for grading, for student advising, for departmental service, and all the rest.
But this semester, with what probably amounts to just an extra two or three hours a week, I'm doing intellectual labor that benefits only my teaching: I'm not a Shakespearian or a drama scholar, and the extra reading I'm doing isn't toward a new project (or if it is, it's a project so far in the future that I don't know it exists). I'm thinking harder about the plays, and trying to fill in some gaps in my knowledge of their scholarship, just because. And the only recipients of that additional learning have been my students.
I'm not saying we should all teach a 2/2 load, or that I or anyone else would always use the additional time for virtuous, teaching-related activities. But it sure has been nice to have the space--and really, such a little, little space--for reading and thinking that serves no immediate end, but whose benefits are still material.