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I'm starting as an Assistant Professor at an R1 university, and will be teaching my first undergraduate course (~2.5h/week) in the Spring of 2021. I've been asked if I have a preferred teaching time. What are some factors to consider when deciding the class time? Is there a specific time that should be avoided at all costs?

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    If there are other courses that many of your students will want to take (or even be required to take), then of course make sure your class time doesn't conflict with those other courses. – Andreas Blass Jan 5 at 4:08
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    Avoid Monday mornings and Friday afternoons. Many people, including me, like to extend their weekends as far as possible. – mlk Jan 5 at 10:39
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Some students don't like to get up early in the morning, so attendance can suffer then.

Just after lunch (or supper) can be hard as people can get drowsy.

None of that is necessarily a problem if the course is interesting and you have a way to keep them active.

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This depends on several factors:

  1. What is your mental rhythm during the day?
  2. What kind of teaching are you doing?
  3. What do you want to achieve with your teaching?
  4. How do you want to balance that objective against your research time?
  1. What is your mental rhythm during the day?

Are you at your best in the morning, mid-day, or in the afternoon? In other words, when are you intellectually sharpest? That's your "A" time, for doing the most difficult tasks. When are you less capable, but still pretty good? That's your "B" time, for managing important but routine tasks. When are you physically present but mentally shut down? That's your "C" time, for doing rote, house-keeping tasks that require no thought but still have to be done. Managing your A, B, and C times during the day is how we survive in an R1.

  1. What kind of teaching are you doing?

Are you classes going to be lecture format? Lecture/discussion format? Are there several hundred students? or 25? Think about whether you are primarily working from a script, or working with student questions and/or student engagement that demands your full attention.

  1. What do you want to achieve with your teaching?

Teaching in your first year requires a great deal of preparation time and if student ratings of your teaching are a factor in tenure decisions (that is not always the case), you will want to demonstrate at some point in the first 2-3 years that you can stimulate excitement about your course materials in the students. That connection with the students matters more to some of us than others, so consider where you want to fall on the spectrum between being 'engaging' vs. 'adequate.' That will influence whether you teach during your A, B, or C time of the day.

  1. How do you want to balance that objective against your research time?

The balance in an R1 is always between teaching and research demands. Some professors will save their A and B time for thinking through their research agenda; the downside is that you are in the classroom when you are not at your best and least able to respond intelligently to smart student questions. Others will find a way to alternate days during the week, so that on some days you teach at your best time and on others dig into your research.

You are the only one who can make this decision about your "preferred" teaching times. So it is wise of you to ask the question, as it involves decisions about who you are, what your objectives are, and how you are going to balance the different demands of teaching and research at an R1. Being in your first year may mean you answer this question differently than you would if your were more advanced. It's fine to be flexible--you won't always get your preferred time, anyway, in most departments. So sometimes the question is pointless, in a practical sense. But if it helps you to define yourself as an academic professional, it is a very worthwhile consideration.

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  1. Avoid first morning classes: students miss busses, get delayed etc. The first class of the day is always the most disrupted. Moreover, it is difficult for me as an instructor to “get in teaching mode” when class starts so soon after I arrive (lest you are comfy with really early arrivals),
  2. Avoid classes at meal times: students have their mind (and their stomach) focused on something else than learning,
  3. Although this may not apply now, avoid back-to-back classes so you can more easily mentally switch from one topic to the next.

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