September 25th, 2008

First College Teaching Experiences


Here’s an idea of that could benefit every discipline. A couple of psychology faculty members surveyed job ads posted by their professional association to identify which courses new faculty were most often asked to teach. They identified four courses, listed in 45 percent of the ads. Their point: graduate schools ought to be sure that their students are prepared to teach these courses.

This information not only benefits graduate schools, it also offers important guidelines to those institutions hiring new faculty. That got me thinking once more about how we ought to be more mindful of the first year teaching assignments and experiences offered new faculty. Our awareness of the importance of those first college experiences for new students has increased dramatically over the past couple of decades. A similar concern about getting new faculty members off on the right teaching foot would seem equally timely and appropriate.

Besides considering which courses new teachers should be teaching, we should also be asking how many courses and preps are appropriate. What about class size and class type? Should beginning teachers be assigned those large survey courses? Is the first year the right time to assume advising responsibilities?

Most institutions do now support new faculty with orientation activities at the beginning and throughout that first year. Many assign mentors. Most do not do anything particularly creative or formative about student evaluations, despite the power of a set of results to mold how faculty think and develop as teachers.

In the same way we have addressed first college experiences, we ought to consider what kind of first experiences teaching college would set faculty up for career-long growth and development as teachers.

Reference: Irons, J. G., and Buskirk, W. (2008). Preparing the new professoriate: What courses should they be ready to teach. Teaching of Psychology, 35 (3), 201-204.

—Maryellen Weimer