mistakes beginning teachers make
Last week, an imposter took over my classroom. Come to find out, that imposter was me.
I started teaching three years ago. I was fresh out of graduate school, equally thrilled and terrified at the prospect of teaching my own classes. On paper it sounded straightforward: teach others the same material I just finished learning myself. I could do that, I told myself confidently. Then on the first day of class I met The Imposter.
We regularly tell our students “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You can learn from your mistakes.” Most of us work hard to create classroom climates where it’s okay to make mistakes. We do that because if we’re there when the mistake is made, we can expedite the learning, and because we know that everyone else in class can learn from those mistakes.
I started teaching at American University at the age of 56 after a rewarding career as an environmental and wildlife film producer. That was almost ten years ago, and I’ll be the first to admit that I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I had never taught before and I wasn’t even sure where to begin. I had no teaching philosophy beyond some vague, unarticulated feeling that I wanted my students to do well. And so, I started asking lots of questions.
Beginning college teachers benefit when they have an instructional mentor. That fact is well established; as is the fact that mentoring benefits those who mentor. The influx of new faculty over the past few years has caused mentoring programs to flourish. All kinds of activities have been proposed so that mentors and mentees can spend their time together profitably. Addressed less often are those instructional topics particularly beneficial for the experienced and less-experienced teachers to address. Here’s a list of possibilities.
While conducting a class, even though teachers may be doing all or most of the talking, students communicate important nonverbal messages. They communicate these messages through facial expressions, body postures, and how they say what they say, as well as what actions they do or the skills they attempt to perform. Both novice and expert teachers see the same student responses, but expert teachers see in those responses something very different than novices see.
Once I passed my 50th semester of introductory biology, I began to regret that my profession doesn’t have a real apprenticeship for teaching—why should every young professor facing his or her first big class…have to make the same mistakes I did and, perhaps more important, why should they not know that everybody…has the same problems?