How You Can Enjoy Teaching More

Work Less at Teaching - and Enjoy it More

For many faculty, an academic career is a joyful one, with opportunities for ongoing intellectual and personal growth. Often teaching is a stimulating and satisfying part of that growth. But in recent years, many faculty report that the demands of teaching feel more like a grind, and feelings of stress and burnout are compounded by new work demands such as increased service. 

Research on improving workplace satisfaction in higher education suggests that faculty have been experiencing mission creep since the recession of 2008 (McClure, 2022; McClure & Fryar, 2022), with the result being increasing work disengagement. 

A natural response to feeling overwhelmed, disengaging is also a functional coping mechanism in the face of excessive work demands (Afrahia et al., 2022). Disengagement initially causes humans to retreat, to preserve their energies in a complex and draining situation. 

Recognizing disengagement can also be a call for faculty to listen to their negative feelings and make adjustments to the conditions in which they are working.  

Thought of this way, disengagement can prompt you to ask, “How can I make teaching less complex and less draining?” 

While this is a particularly powerful question to ask in moments of excessive stress, it is a great question for faculty to ask themselves at any time to improve their lives and their teaching! 

It turns out that making teaching easier is a key practice of good teachers and has been a focus in the literature of teaching in higher education since Robert Boice (2000) first suggested that faculty use the principle of nihil nimus (Latin for “nothing in excess”) to guide their approach to teaching - and their academic careers. Keep reading to learn more about how you can make teaching less burdensome.  

Break Old Habits  

Faculty developers like Boice, Kerry Anne Rockquemore and Tracey Laszloffy have long noted two common faculty habits that frequently led to burnout: working too hard at teaching and working in isolation as teachers. Let’s examine where these habits originate and then consider strategies for letting others do some of the work of teaching.

Working Too Hard at Teaching

Why Faculty Work Too Hard at Teaching and How Students Can Do Some of the Work

For many faculty, teaching means giving lectures, staging demonstrations or modeling disciplinary practices. These approaches mean hours of preparation before class and hours of being center stage in the classroom. 

In fact, research suggests that many instructors spend 40+ hours a week on preparation, teaching and responding to student work. Why do faculty spend this immoderate and exhausting time on teaching?

Rockquemore and Lazsloffy suggest that many faculty feel they “have to prove their competence” (2008, p. 108), pointing out that faculty of color often double down on teaching preparation because they “operate on the assumption that they will have to be twice as good in order to be evaluated as equal. 

This extra, invisible burden creates increased expectations to perform flawlessly in the classroom, leading to time-consuming overpreparation” (2008, p. 109). The authors, however, point out that this excessive work benefits neither faculty nor students and suggest that faculty design classes and lectures to move “at a pace that allows for student participation” (2008, p. 112). 

Not only does this more moderate approach reduce faculty workload, it also minimizes the defensive and rushed feel of class meetings that are jammed with content. Instead, class time is focused on students practicing the thinking and work of the course while faculty rest (and breathe!), observe students’ work, and give them feedback. 

Even in a lecture-focused course, you can pause frequently and ask students to provide examples or ask questions so that class time does not feel like a frenetic rush to “cover” topics. Students will learn more when you give them the opportunity to be more active in class, and you will do less work!  

Your first reaction to this advice might be worry that you will have to work to develop student-centered activities. Here again is an opportunity to work moderately. Keep reading for more ideas about how you can rely on existing support networks to help you have students do more work while you do less.

Working in Isolation as Teachers

Why Faculty Teach in Isolation and How Colleagues Can Do Some of the Work

Many faculty take all the burdens of teaching on themselves. As Boice puts it, “The professoriate attracts self-starting, self-reliant individuals who place high value on solving problems on their own. To seek help, to take direction that might encourage conformity or submission, could signal unsuitability or weakness” (2000, p. 3). 

The value of self-reliance is so pervasive in the academy that often instructors do not make use of (or even know about!) the network of resources that can help lighten the load. It is a painful irony that while faculty may study webs of relationships and complex interactive systems in fields like Chemistry, Literary Theory, Sociology, etc., they tend to isolate themselves from the very networks of support and resources that can help them thrive as teachers.


Avoid Isolation and Let Others Do Some of the Work of Teaching

Boice suggests that faculty who find the most balance in their teaching seek out guidance, ideas, and resources at faculty development centers like CATLOE. 

Further, his research suggests that faculty who manage their teaching with ease regularly meet with colleagues to chat informally about teaching or visit colleagues’ classrooms for inspiration. 

When you start thinking of teaching as a communal rather than an individual responsibility, you realize that there are many opportunities to let colleagues do some of the work. Here are some specific suggestions:  

  • Let the research on teaching do some of the work by borrowing ideas from books that focus on teaching in the higher education classroom, most of which provide examples of effective activities and activity formats you can use. Visit CATLOE’s Resource Library to find ideas!  

  • Let faculty colleagues do some of the work by asking them to share their teaching ideas and activities.  

  • Let CATLOE do some of the work...

    • requesting that we facilitate an instructor’s learning circle (e.g., a group of faculty who teach similar courses or use similar teaching techniques).  

    • requesting a consultation. We can help you learn strategies for reducing class preparation time, having students do more work in class, streamlining feedback on student work, reducing stressful interactions with students, and more!  

    • requesting Early Semester Surveys. Learning what your students are thinking can help you focus on what is working in a course and let go of practices that are time-consuming or ineffective.  

    • using us a space to talk about your teaching. We are always here for you and provide a safe and confidential space to explore what is happening in your teaching, even if you don’t have something specific in mind. We will follow your lead and help you take the steps you want to take to make teaching easier and, ultimately, joyful.  


Let the Joy of Your Discipline Back Into Your Teaching!

When faculty work with the instructional consultants at CATLOE, we sometimes ask you to describe the work you do as scholars or artists. 

This can be a wonderful opportunity to talk about your work and relive the big discoveries, surprises, or the new ways of thinking that first made you fall in love with your discipline. 

Think about teaching as a joyful endeavor in which you invite students to make those discoveries, experience and articulate those surprises, and have their thinking overturned in ways that delight them. 

As young people, your students are struggling to make their way in our complex world and make a good life for themselves and others. Your discipline is one way for them to make sense of the world they find themselves in; they need and want the tools of your discipline. 

As you teach them how to use these tools to stay afloat, you can also revisit the joy of your discipline.  



  • Afrahia, B., Blenkinsopp, J., Fernandez de Arroyabec, J. C., & Karim, M. S. (2022). Work disengagement: A review of the literature. Human Resource Management Review, 32, (2) 100822.  

  • Boice, R. (2000). Advice for new faculty members: Nihil nimus. Pearson.  

  • McClure, K. R., & Fryar, A. H. (2022, January 19). The great faculty disengagement. Chronicle of Higher Education.

  • McClure, K. R. (2022, May 27). Don’t blame the pandemic for worker discontent. Chronicle of Higher Education.  

  • Rockquemore. K. A., & Laszloffy, T. (2008). The Black academic's guide to winning tenure - without losing your soul. Lynne Rienner Publishers.