Teaching for the First Time: 15 Tips

by Erin Solomon, Divya Subramaniam, and Dipti Subramaniam from the CTTL

It’s the beginning of a new semester, and in honor of the 15th anniversary of the Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning (CTTL), we, the CTTL Graduate Assistants, would like to present 15 tips for anyone who may be teaching for the first time.  While there are countless “tips” one could give a new teacher, we thought we would focus in on some of the most basic and most important things to consider when teaching for the first time.

1. Practice makes perfect. Teaching takes practice. Not all teachers are born with gifted public speaking abilities. If speaking in front of an audience makes you cringe and sweat bullets, try practicing your lectures several times before standing in front of your students. Don’t be afraid to seek help from your colleagues and friends as they will be able to provide feedback on your teaching.

2. Course Planning. Success of a class requires preparation ahead of time. It not only makes teaching easier, but it helps facilitate effective teaching. Consider and identify class schedule, logistics, student body, instructional strategies and learning objectives. For more information, check out:
“Creating a Syllabus.” Instruction at FSU: A Guide to Teaching and Learning Practices. Instructional Development Services. Florida State University. http://learningforlife.fsu.edu/ctl/explore/onlineresources/docs/Chptr3.pdf
“Designing a Syllabus.” Center for Learning and Teaching. Cornell University. http://www.cte.cornell.edu/documents/cte/CTE%20Designing%20Syllabus.pdf

3. Have realistic expectations. Your first time teaching will likely be exhilarating, stressful, time consuming, but also very rewarding.  Your first course is not going to be perfect, and you should keep in mind that being a good teacher takes time.  There are an infinite number of activities, technologies, assignments, and ways to structure a course; don’t feel like you need to do everything.  Much of the time simpler is better; think about what you want your students to learn, then design each class day around that.  If activities/technologies/assignments will assist with that goal, then use them, but do not feel that you have to do everything your first time around.

4. Classroom Management and Civility. Managing a class and maintaining civility can be overwhelming for first time teachers.  One thing that can help is specifically outlining the course structure and your expectations in the syllabus.  Having this information in the syllabus will help guide you during the semester when situations arise (i.e. students turning in late assignments, missing an exam, etc.).

5. Teaching Styles. Pick a teaching style that best fits you (formal/authoritative, facilitator, delegator or personal model). This is important as you start developing materials for your course and your preferred method for delivering the course. For more information, feel free to check out Anthony Grasha’s book, “Teaching with Style”, which is the main source for how we talk about teaching styles.  Here is a link to a full text version of the book: http://www.ius.edu/ilte/pdf/teaching_with_style.pdf.

6. Learning Styles. It is important to be aware of the various learning styles in your classroom. Each individual has a learning style(s) that best suits his/her ability in order to maximize learning. Learning styles are often categorized according to the VARK (Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, Kinesthetic…and sometimes multimodal) learning modalities. For more information on learning styles, check out: http://www.vark-learn.com/english/index.asp

7. Active Teaching. Doing activities in the classroom not only helps your students learn the material, but helps to keep them engaged and paying attention!  Consider including discussions, demonstrations, or small group work in your classroom.  If you are unsure of how to start doing this, try simply asking them a question about the material (e.g. “How could you use this theory to explain something that occurs in real life?”).

8. Teaching with Technology. Instructional technologies can be very useful tools in the classroom to enhance student learning and engagement.  There is a vast amount of technologies specifically designed for teachers (i.e. i-clickers, course management websites such as Blackboard or WebCT, Tegrity lecture capture software, etc.) but more general technologies can also enhance learning (i.e. YouTube videos, websites, Twitter, wikis, etc.).  If there is a technology that will help your students learning a concept, try using it in the classroom or for an assignment.

9. Get feedback from students throughout the semester. This will allow you to be flexible and tweak your course as you go along.  Sometimes small changes can greatly improve a course or the students learning.  You can simply ask your students periodically how aspects of the class are going, or you can do a more formal evaluation with an anonymous survey or a Small Group Instructional Feedback session (SGIF) offered by the CTTL.  Getting feedback will allow you to identify your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher, and help you to improve.

10. Self-Reflection.  As teaching is a challenging profession, self-reflection is vital and necessary. Self- reflection helps you take a minute to step back and take a look what was successful in your classroom and what could be improved for future. As we are well aware that each semester can be hectic and piled high and deep, remember to set aside a few minutes every two weeks or so to reflect on how your class is going.

11. End of Semester Evaluation. While we strongly recommend you to get frequent feedback from students, the end of the semester evaluation can be especially valuable. It is extremely vital that you tell your students to be honest and that you value their feedback as you hope to improve the class. The end of semester evaluation can be put to good use as you can refine your teaching as well as identify what worked well and what needs to be better tailored and improved for your next class.

12. Identify a mentor within your department. Mentoring is vital for professional development. Identify a mentor who best understands your needs and is able to provide advice, support and encouragement to improve and achieve your goals as a faculty member.

13. Teaching Development Resources/Opportunities. While teaching your first class can be a challenge, identifying resources for teaching development and opportunities can help with your classroom experience and growth as a teacher. The CTTL, Writing Center and Disability Services are a few examples of resources that are readily available for all faculty and graduate students.

14.  Recommended Reading. One book that we strongly recommend–and also happens to be on our CUTS reading list–is by author James M. Lang, “On courses: A Week-by-week guide to your first semester of college teaching” (2008). We hope this book will help alleviate the stress and anxiety for first time teachers.

15. Last but certainly not least, remember to be proactive, be flexible, relax, smile, and let your personality shine.

Best of luck to you in all your teaching endeavors!

 

One Response to “Teaching for the First Time: 15 Tips”

  1. This is such a wonderful list, Erin, Divya, and Dipti. Thank you for compiling these basics! I wish I would’ve had something like this when I first started teaching 13 years ago.

    Something else I wanted to mention under “No. 2: Course Planning” and “No. 8: Teaching with Technology” especially is that the CTTL’s instructional designers are ready and willing to work with first-time instructors, from graduate students to new professors, to collaborate and navigate the course design process.

    That’s another thing I wished I would’ve known when I started teaching first-year composition in 2004, too: That teaching and learning centers are a home away from home when you’re first learning the ins and outs of teaching (and well beyond that time period too!).