Teaching the owls (and why I cheer for vampires)

student sleeping in classAnastasia Salter has a nice post on Profhacker (a Monkey Grammarian favourite) about the challenges of teaching night classes — some nice suggestions for make them easier on both prof and students and links to even more good advice.

Monkey Grammarian is unambiguously a nocturnal primate. I’ve taught a fair number of night classes myself — some have been among my favourite classes ever, some have been among the worst. It is really hard keeping everyone’s attention (and I usually fail), but I doubt that most of the problems mentioned in the post are inherently about night-time, rather than just plain length of class. I suspect the problems would be almost identical if you tried to teach a three-hour block right after lunch.

All in all, I’d have to say the biggest problems have nothing to do with the class or the night, but with dealing with the rest of the institution the next day. Anastasia mentions the challenge of being expected to show up at meetings early the next morning. I can only second that, and third it, and fourth it.

Huge sections of the university seem to honestly believe the entire campus turns into a pumpkin as soon as they rush to their cars at 4:29 and remains frozen in its vegetative state till they deign to reappear the next morning — and they expect you to rearrange your schedule in accord with their delusion. Some have a vague awareness that something or other might go on in the university after they’ve gone home, but they chalk it up to some kind of moral failing on the part of those involved — and they expect you to rearrange your schedule to defer to their superior virtue.

One administrator who was trying to arrange a meeting that I stubbornly refused to attend if it were before 10 a.m. snarled that ten hours was more than enough time for someone to wind down after teaching a three-hour class, travel home from campus, sleep for eight hours, wake up, shower, shave, eat breakfast, and travel back to campus for their meeting. What problem could I possibly have? I said, “In that case you’ll have absolutely no problem holding the meeting at 3 a.m. — ten hours after you leave work.” Said administrator spluttered for a while, then bluntly denied that their claim of what I should be able to do had any bearing on what they should be expected to do.

Granted, it’s only a tiny, tiny minority of day-walkers who are that profoundly clueless that you wonder whether sunlight has a detrimental effect on neurons. But their negative impact on your serenity far outweighs that of the many only mildly clueless who’ve never given much thought to what happens in the world after they go to bed and don’t want to start now. Is it any surprise that during horror movies, I’m usually rooting for the vampires?[1]

At least I now have enough job security that I can stubbornly refuse to do the impossible. The comments section of the ProfHacker post reminds us that most people in academia aren’t so lucky.[2]

Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user rofltosh


  1. This is despite the fact that I am, technically speaking, a zombie, and we two different species of undead historically haven’t gotten along very well.
  2. On the other hand, universities are far from the worst offenders, mostly because our “late” hours are pretty tame compared to what others in the world have to deal with. Ask anybody pulling night-shift in a hospital how much consideration they get from the bureaucrats of the day-shift. Most computer programmers could tell you stories of pulling all-night coding marathons, only to be berated for not sitting perkily at their desk at 8:31 ready to answer Accounting’s nitpicking objections to their latest petty-cash reimbursement form — which is clearly more central to the mission of the company than making sure your product ships on time.
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