September 14th, 2010

Advice for New and Not so New College Teachers


When you’re a new college teacher, good advice can be so helpful. Studies are important—good practice rests on what has been verified about teaching and learning, but early on, it’s those practical bits of wisdom that help a beginner get a handle on the details that matter most. The other thing about advice for new teachers is that it contains important reminders to those who’ve been teaching for a while. I’ve found an example that illustrates. Edward Burmila suggests “Seven Things to Know about Teaching Your Own Course while in Graduate School.” Here they are with a sampling of the pithy quotes that appear throughout his article.

  1. Anticipate and understand student attitudes.
  2. Prepare in advance for your mistakes. “As a graduate student with little or no teaching experience¸ your students will expect you to make mistakes. They are correct; you will.” “The key to preventing these errors from affecting your overall performance is to spend time planning and practicing how you will deal with inevitable rookie mistakes.” (p. 558)
  3. Take advantage of available resources. “It is tempting to see our first teaching opportunity as a chance to create and conduct our dream course. Even if the assignment is to teach an established course … there is great temptation to disregard the existing curriculum and strike out on one’s own. This is a poor strategy.” (p. 558)
  4. Know when to say when (to helpful colleagues). “Being a first-time teacher is not unlike being a new parent. You will become a recipient … of copious amounts of advice from some of your academic elders and graduate student colleagues. … There is a point at which additional advice … is unhelpful and can lead you to second-guess decisions you have already made.” (p. 559)
  5. Avoid acting. “As fondly as we may recall our class with Professor Wonderful during our college days, it is neither possible nor desirable to replicate the experience for our students by attempting to be someone else in the classroom.” (p. 559)
  6. Prioritize and protect your other responsibilities. “Remember that the process of teaching resembles matter is a gaseous state; it expands to fill whatever space you provide for it.” (p. 559)
  7. Make it fun.

Reference: Burmila, E. M. (2010). Graduate students as independent instructors: Seven things to know about teaching your own course while in graduate school. PS, Politics and Political Science, 43 (3), 557-560.

Note: If you work with graduate students or new college teachers, this would be a wonderful article to share with them. The advice is sound and as you can see, it’s an especially well-written piece.