I started and abandoned several posts in the last month. I hope to post a little more often this year, but we shall see.
I am teaching an advanced topics course next year and have not yet decided the topic. Now I'm down to the wire, to the point where the registrar is calling me at my office to tell me to get them the description. I have gone round and round about this course and overthought it just about every way I could overthink it.
I have had a lot of ideas for courses I could teach. A lot of them, although interesting subjects, are ones that I don't have the clearest idea how I'd teach. That is, I don't have a great sense of what questions or problems I'd organize the course around, and in most cases that would require me to do quite a bit of work to get up to speed on the scholarship in the area before I'd feel confident that I could do a good job teaching the course. If I felt a great and burning passion to teach a particular subject, I'd go for that, but I don't. Since I've already had opportunities to develop and teach advanced topical courses here, I've "used up" the ideas I once felt most intense about.
So in picking a subject, I'm trying to balance my interest in a topic against how much work it would take to prepare. I'm also worried about student interest. My courses have, by and large, drawn a lot of students, but this worry pushes me a bit toward "sexier" sounding courses. Unfortunately, those are often not the ones I feel best prepared to teach.
Finally, thinking about next year's courses forces me to think about my longer-term teaching plans. I teach 6 courses a year; half of those are bread-and-butter survey classes. So I have 3 upper-level courses a year to play around with. I want to have courses I repeat regularly, but I also want to have the freedom to introduce new topics as they interest me, and balancing the two gets tricky very quickly.
After spending weeks toying with one course idea after another, sketching out a five-year plan, feeling disgruntled with the five-year plan, worrying about how to balance my teaching among introductory, intermediate, and advanced courses, I throw up my hands. I think I'll propose a course on monasticism in the Middle Ages. It's... wait for it... actually my area of expertise, unlike 90% of the ideas I've come up with, and I already have a fairly strong idea of what sort of readings I'd assign. I do worry about how to sell it to students--but on the other hand, religious studies courses at my school are pretty well attended, so that might not be as difficult as I fear.
If you actually read through all that, thanks. If you're faculty, how do you decide what courses to teach? How much freedom do you have to make that decision? Have I missed some ways I could have agonized about and overthought this decision?