Beginning teaching? Some advice to help.

I’ve been seeing a lot of “timehops” in my Facebook and Twitter feeds lately.  I guess folks are interested in seeing what they were doing and posting a few years ago to get a sense of how much change has occurred.  With this spirit in mind, I thought I’d do a “timehop” today and repost a blog post from a few years ago.  This post was originally shared in August 2014.  Since I’m leading new faculty orientation on campus again this week, I thought it would be a good post to review.  Enjoy.

This week, our campus kicks off its new faculty orientation.  With four and a half days of meetings and professional development sessions, the orientation is intended to be an entryway for faculty new to the university and, in some cases, new to teaching.  As I’ve been working to plan the orientation, I thought I’d use this week’s post to offer some advice to those educators who may be just starting out their career.

1.  Shoot for being effective.    Creating syllabi and planning lessons are daunting tasks.  They can also be humbling and a little scary.  When I first started teaching, I worried about creating perfect lessons and error-proof syllabi.  In practice, however, these are targets that may be unattainable for someone new to the profession.  Instead of focusing on perfection, start with being effective.  Create lessons that effectively help students learn and syllabi that effectively communicate class expectations.  After reaching that goal, you can start working becoming perfect.

2.  Expect to make mistakes.  While you’re developing those effective syllabi and lessons, you’re going to make mistakes.  Maybe you’ll be in the middle of some lesson and forget how to do long division.  Or maybe you’ll arrive at 10 AM for your 9 AM class.  Or maybe you’ll misgrade a whole set of exams.  The important thing is what you do next.  I’d suggest embracing your infallibility and discuss how important it is to learn from your mistakes.

3.  Teach students.  While you’ve probably been hired because of your content expertise, you also have to remember the other aspects of the job.  You don’t just teach your content.  You teach students and their learning requires more than a “stand and deliver” approach.  In his book “Naked Teaching,” Jose Antonio Bowen discusses the importance of face-to-face interaction in a highly technological world.  In an article in Liberal Education recently, Bowen writes:

As faculty, if we are primarily concerned with transmitting content, then our value will only decrease. The Internet contains a much broader selection of lectures, demonstrations, animations, and examples on more subjects, in more languages, and with a greater variety of approaches, methods, and pedagogies than any professor, department, or even entire university can provide. If, however, we are more concerned with faculty-student interaction; the design and sequence of learning experiences; the application, analysis, and synthesis of information; the motivation of students; and, especially, the increasing complexity of students’ mental models, then the value of what we do will increase.”

These processes require that we focus on students’ needs and interact with them on a personal level.  Our value as educators isn’t based solely on the amount of knowledge in our heads but on our ability to foster a positive learning environment in our classrooms.

4.  Take care of yourself.  I hate to break it to you, but you’ll have bad teaching days.  My hope is that you have more good ones than bad ones this year.  At the end of the day, however, it’s important that you remember to take care of yourself.  I have a colleague who identifies a point on his commute home where he drops the emotional and mental baggage of the day.  Other colleagues relax by exercising, gardening and cooking.   Whatever activity you choose, identify something that you do for your own well-being.  Teaching is hard work and requires dedication.  But it also requires that you attend to your mental health and spiritual well-being as much as you do to planning lessons and grading papers.

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