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Overcommitted again, naturally (#1272)

Topics/tags: Overcommitment, unedited, rambly.

These days, I find myself spending too much time on what we might call the wrong things. I should be focusing on taking care of Michelle and taking care of myself [1]. Or at lesat on spending more time with Michelle. But work seems to keep getting in the way.

Let’s take yesterday as an example. Yesterday was Thursday. I don’t teach on Thursdays. That should mean that I have time to spend with family, right?

Let’s look at the day.

I woke up at about 7:15 am and made a list of work tasks that needed to be done. I had a homework assignment [2] to finish writing for CSC-151 [3]. I’d put in about two hours and anticipated needing about two more for the base assignment [4]. I had three or so quizzes to write for CSC-151. That’s one of the downsides of a mastery grading approach; when students struggle on a topic, you need to write new quizzes or exam problems. I needed to review (and, I discovered, revise) Friday’s lab for CSC-151. I needed to review Monday’s readings for CSC-151. I needed to review Friday’s lab for CSC-207 [5] (fortunately, it required very few changes) and Monday’s readings for CSC-207. I needed to post the corresponding reading and lab assignments to Gradescope. Revisions to the CSC-151 lab also meant that I needed to rewrite the autograder and test the revised autograder. Since students had been struggling with the geometry of outlined triangles, I wanted to write some hints on those. I was also supposed to prepare instructions for my CSC-207 graders, but I accepted that there was no way that I could get that done.

Why did I have so much to do? Was I slacking off? Nope. We’ve rearranged CSC-151 somewhat this semester and we’re using a new image library, so I need to check (and, usually, update) the readings and labs for each class. Last semester saw a set of new assignments for CSC-151, not all of which worked well. Mini-project 4 was particularly problematic and also didn’t fit our new schedule because it relied on recursion, and they haven’t learned recursion yet. So it needed rewriting. I couldn’t rewrite that one earlier because I spent about four hours on Tuesday writing the autograder for the new mini-project 3. I work a few hours each night just to keep up.

In any case, I had this list of work to complete. But there were also other things planned for the day. Michelle and I were meeting with our accountant at 8:00 a.m. I had two hours of regular meetings scheduled, one hour of a department meeting and a one-hour meeting with the CSC-151 graders and faculty. I had three hours of meetings with students scheduled. I normally have two hours of offices hours on Thursdays, but two students couldn’t make my office hours and we found other times (or at least tried to find other times). Oh! We also had the CS major declaration session scheduled for 4:00-5:30pm.

That didn’t leave a lot of time to get the aforementioned work for classes done.

And there’s also the other work that comes up throughout the day, primarily work related to email. A discussion with ITS about why I can’t make do with the minimal configuration of MacBook Pros. A too-deep review of the call-for-papers for the 2025 SIGCSE Technical Symposium. Some negotation on how to deal with special requests for the 2024 SIGCE Technical Symposium. Writing a statement about my current advising style in preparation for the afternoon seminar. Some answers to student questions. A student thought they’d booked office hours, but those weren’t available, so I answered some online questions. Other smaller things that I’ve now forgotten.

To make things better, I started feeling ill around 1pm. Eldest child graciously picked me up. I met with my graders online. I held office hours online. I skipped the department seminar. Eldest child graciously made dinner, which meant that I had an extra hour or so to work on my class materials.

Did I finish everything by the time I went to bed at 9pm? Nope. Did I complete a surprising amount? Yup. Was it everything I considered essential for Friday’s classes? Nope. I hadn’t finished the outlines for Friday’s classes. I hadn’t made progress on the CSC-151 assignment. And I hadn’t read student questions on the readings for Friday’s classes. (Unfortunately, I often find that reading those questions is important, but not essential.) Did I awake way too early on Friday to finish as much as I could of that essential work? Yup.

I’m left with a question that I always seem to be left with: Where can I find the time to do the most important things? My classes are important. My students are important. So each day’s labs, readings, and assignments have to be ready. Things need to get graded [6]. But those should all be less important than time with Michelle.

What do I do?

Postscript: Fortunately, next year will be much better. I only have one prep in the fall (two sections of CSC-207) and, while I’m going to be revising the class as I move it from a 3x80 schedule to a 2x110 schedule, I expect to have many fewer big changes to make. And this semester’s changes to CSC-151 should (mostly) work for next spring.

Fingers crossed.

Postscript: I don’t yet have a complete list of what work I need to do this weekend, but here’s a starting point. I need to finish the HW assignment for CSC-151. That includes writing some more examples and writing an autograder. I need to grade the three CSC-151 quizzes. That will be comparatively fast. I need to grade a set of learning assessments from CSC-207. I’m not sure how long that will take. I need to post the next set of learning assessments for CSC-207. I should review the next homework assignment for CSC-207, which I’m distributing on Wednesday. I should write next Wednesday’s CSC-151 lab, which may be mostly new. Also an autograder for that lab. Why do we have a new lab? Because the basic list operations (car, cdr, and cons) somehow got dropped from the schedule last semester, and it did not work well to cram them in at the same point that students learned list recursion. There may also be a new reading. I should review Monday’s labs for CSC-151 and CSC-207. And Wednesday’s reading for CSC-207. I want to catch up on the small grading, such as reading responses and such. Oh, that’s right! I also have to read the pre-assessments for MP4 for CSC-151.

There’s also a bunch of SIGCSE work that I won’t describe. Also a few musings I’d like to write.

I’m hopeless.

[1] Perhaps taking care of the boys, too.

[2] Mini-project.

[3] CSC-151 is Functional Problem Solving, the first course in Grinnell’s CS major. It also serves as a general education course for people who want to learn computational thinking.

[4] Stay tuned for a musing about what goes beyond the base assignment.

[5] CSC-207 is Object-Oriented Problem Solving, Data Structures, and Algorithms. It’s the third course in Grinnell’s introductory CS sequence.

[6] My therapist disputes that last point.

Version 1.0 of 2024-02-23.