The winter quarter is a week old now, and this quarter I’m teaching the two introductory Python classes. Right now the population for these classes is strictly computer science majors or minors, and given that we have about 15 undergraduate degrees there are relatively few sections of the class taught. I’ve never taught the second quarter of Python before, but this is my third time teaching the first quarter of Python.
It’s also somewhat unusual in recent years for me to teach anything other than introductory classes, although the reason for that is long and complicated and somewhat irrelevant here. Because I teach a lot of introductory classes, I’m used to having classes with very few students I know. I usually teach their first class in something, whether it’s programming or discrete math or web development, and then they move on to more advanced classes with other instructors. I’ll occasionally bump into a student I knew in the general education class for freshman that I used to teach or have one of my advisees appear in a class, but for the most part they’re strangers.
Obviously this quarter things are very different in one of my classes. About two-thirds of the students in the second quarter of Python took the first quarter of Python with me, and most of them took it with me last quarter. This has led to a different environment in the classroom, one that I barely remember. I knew a majority of the students’ names on the first day of class. I had students teasing me and making jokes immediately. They’re serious about the class, mostly because they remember how hard the homework was last quarter and because I warned them that this quarter was even harder, but they’re also chatty and friendly with each other. The classroom is full of conversation before I begin teaching, and my questions never linger for long before someone tries to answer them.
The most interesting thing for me is that this familiarity is making teaching the class easier. Comparing it with last January when I was teaching Python for the first time to a bunch of strangers, I felt more stressed. Trying to get to know a class at the same time that you’re teaching new material is just harder than exploring something new with people you already know. And that seems to be true even when the familiar class is learning more complex material. Having this rare experience is a happy start to 2012, and I’m grateful.