Have you ever said yes to something without knowing how to make it work? Here’s my experience of adding sessional lecturing to running a business.
Have you ever said yes to something and then wondered how in heck you are going to make it work?
One of my dear friends, Sandy, is a uni lecturer at ACU. A few weeks ago when she suddenly needed surgery that involved a long recovery time, she asked if I could step in and take her final year students for a few weeks for her.
Yes, I have regularly given keynotes, run workshops and given the odd guest lecture, but ongoing lecturing of final year students at Uni was something new altogether.
And did I mention that the subject that I would lecture in was something I hadn’t directly practiced in for over a decade – with some of the content material I hadn’t touched since I went to uni in the 1980’s?
I was terrified! Not just a teeny bit scared, but riding a roller coaster … without a harness … in an earthquake … while aliens in UFOs were shooting laser beams at me scared.
So, of course, I said yes.
After all, Sandy was my bridesmaid and stood next to me on multiple occasions when I needed her. It was the least I could do to support her. Besides, both she and the Head of School thought I could do it, even if I wasn’t so sure.
I am now a sessional Lecturer in Employment Relations at ACU in Brisbane, in addition to continuing to run Heart Harmony Communications full-time.
This week is a mid-semester break, and I have slowed down enough to take stock and share a few of my learnings so far.
Start with your client’s emotions and work up from there
When I said yes to the opportunity, one of my first calls was to another colleague, Leesa Watego from Iscariot Media who also is a sessional lecturer at ACU. I wanted some inside tips from someone who was not a professional academic.
Her advice was gold. “How are the students feeling right now? What are their biggest fears? Before you can share any content, you need to start by addressing their fears.”
That made me stop in my tracks. I had been so focused on my fears and “getting it right” that I had missed the most important part.
So, I spent the first 30 minutes of the first lecture, revisiting assignments, course curriculum and course direction.
Leesa was spot on. The students were naturally concerned and nervous. They needed to see that things were back under control, that we had a plan moving forward, and that we would have a seamless transition, with myself involving Sandy all the way through so nothing and no-one would slip through the cracks.
Funny, that I would do this automatically in organisational change processes and marketing, but hadn’t thought to apply this to changing personnel.
Preparation is vital. Sleep is optional.
When preparing a new keynote, my rule of thumb is a one-hour keynote takes me a full day (and night) to prepare. A 3 hour of lecture takes me 2½ days to prepare.
Why so long? My approach is always to work out what you want to say first and then go back to review how you are going to say it. How can you use visuals to enhance the story? What about activities to deliver the point? How can you add in practice skill components that the audience will use in the real world?
Reading from a piece of paper is easy but boring. Transferring learning into knowledge takes more time to get right.
But have you ever tried squeezing an extra 2½ days work into your workweek? Things started falling through cracks everywhere.
I had to prune my life … hard.
My carpets now have taken on the look of mohair with the odd tumbleweed of fur silently rolling around the lounge room (4 pets and kids with long hair will do that). Vacuuming had to wait.
Cooking and shopping became haphazard. It became a game of what can we throw together from a tin of anchovies and a jar of pasta sauce. Answer: Takeaway.
My weekly blog disappeared in a cloud of good intentions, and emails took a bit longer to answer than I would have liked (sorry about that!)
But you know what? I was loving the new challenge!
Deliver to plan … but do it your way
Sandy had done a brilliant job of setting up the weekly course session plan, complete with readings to be discussed by the group. The problem is that plans reflect the person making them and are unique to each person.
I have ended up following Sandy’s base session plan, but adding my own tweaks, readings, and bits and pieces. I am delivering the plan, but from my unique perspective.
Never be afraid to make a role yours and bring all of your skills and expertise to the table.
No experience in life is wasted
When I went to uni, I wondered where in life I would use the case Zuijs vs. Wirth Brothers. You see, I had a lecturer that was fascinated with this case. So pretty much every lecture in one of my employment law subjects would end up revisiting the case.
A quick summary of the case in case you missed this fascinating one in your travels: A trapeze artist fell and hurt themselves. Were they an employee or an independent contractor? Short answer: Employee. Long answer: You don’t want the long answer!
Every now and again when he was in mid-Zuijs flight, the lecturer would say “You will need to know this someday, and you will be grateful that you know it.”
I can now die happy knowing that I did, in fact, need to know this information: Even if it was simply to pass it on to another generation of students many, many years later!
Terror can sneakily give way to strange emotions
Week 1 in my first lecture, my stomach was so tightly cramped with nerves that I didn’t need Spanx.
Week 2 was better. I only wanted to throw up 3 times before class.
Week 3 I caught myself thinking “This is really cool and fun. I am actually enjoying this.”
I drove home after week 3 with a surprised smile on my face. Who knew I would enjoy lecturing?
Sandy’s recovery is a bit slower than she would like, so I am now taking her fantastic students through to the end of the semester for her. I have also agreed to 60 hours of marking for another subject where the lecturer has had to leave due to unforeseen circumstances.
It looks like the terror has made way for something else.
… Unexpected joy sprinkled amongst my frantic diary moments.
Would I ever consider academia full time? Maybe when I retire. You see, I love writing for clients and building websites for small businesses too much to ever consider leaving it. Until then, I am happy to juggle both for a few more weeks until I hand back Sandy’s students to her with gratitude for a fantastic experience.