I will be changing things up again next semester, although hopefully not as drastically as before -- we will see. Classes don't start for at least a month so I have some time to decide how to retool my syllabi.
One thing I learned is that I shouldn't be afraid to rant when it's warranted (in this case, I was really angry about the Islamophobia that is happening everywhere). I actually had to stop myself because I realized I was yelling in the classroom. But it was the ranting that made a real difference for some of the students, and I know this because they said/wrote so. They felt that I really cared about the world, about them, and about our shared future. They called it being "passionate." Like last semester, I received some kind thank-yous from students, but this time around a few students gave me gifts and others wrote really thoughtful reflection papers on their progress as writers and thinkers.
Another thing I learned is that, along the same vein as the ranting, students really like to see my personality and glimpses of the real me. I have this problem with self-presentation, where I have two main professional personas that I default to. One is the more fun one that likes to talk "real" and sometimes gossip, and the other is my formal lecturer/interview persona. I need to fix the second version to make her more like the first, which is more the real me, anyway. But obviously I'd prefer a middle ground between the two when I relate to my students. Oversharing and being buddy-buddy could lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings when grading time comes around. At the end of the day, the power differential between me and my students is much too great for true friendship to develop during a class. It's sad but that's how academia is structured here.
Finally, I also learned that young students really love their music. On the last day of one of my classes, we had a potluck and it turned into an impromptu dance and lip-sync party! I didn't perform (um, no way), but I enjoyed how comfortable they were with each other. Students in that particular class have made friends with each other, to the point where they hang out and study with each other for other classes, too, and I actually think that's one good way to gauge the success of a semester of teaching.
Next time, I'll talk a bit about my upcoming New Year resolutions. If you celebrate a holiday this time of year, I hope your holiday celebrations and preparations are going well!