Thanks to a high turnover rate and heavy recruitment by schools that need faculty, new teachers enter the workforce every year. The total number of postsecondary faculty has increased over the past decade and a half, and that doesn’t include those who replace other teachers.
If you’re teaching for the first time, know that you’re not alone. Remember to be patient with yourself and keep a learning mindset as you adjust to your new role.
Develop a strategy
As the old saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?” Specify clear learning goals, starting with broad goals for the semester and specific goals for your curriculum units.
Next, think about the steps necessary to get there. What are the basics that students need to know about the topic, and how much knowledge can you reasonably expect them to come in with? From these basics, what can you teach to move them forward?
This process is called scaffolding — giving students the understanding they need for the next step in their education, building on each step until they reach their final target.
Set clear expectations
Research shows that when teachers set clear expectations in the classroom — expectations, not hopes — students respond in kind. When a student enters a class hearing that the instructor has high standards and is there to help success happen, that student is more likely to succeed.
Detailing your high expectations is the best way to show students that you believe in them. This includes expectations about:
- Attendance and class participation
- Assignment due dates, including how much flexibility you have for those due dates
- Communication, including notifying you if they have to miss a class or deadline
- Learning benchmarks and when you expect students to reach them
Offer reminders in advance, especially when a due date is upcoming or students are starting to "let things slide."
Finally, give plenty of feedback so students know when they’re meeting or exceeding your academic expectations. Offer detailed comments on assignments and ask lots of questions so students can demonstrate their understanding.
Create routines and stick to them
Class routines put students in the right frame of mind for learning, especially in the online format where students’ study space is often their living space. To help your students focus, set up a comfortable class rhythm. For example:
- Make sure students know how to log in and what they have to do when they get online (mute their microphones, turn their cameras on, etc.)
- Open class the same way every time
- Have a designated time for questions about the last class or homework
- Make sure students know where to find reading materials, course content, etc.
- If you’ve scheduled anything “special,” such as student presentations, make sure students know when that will happen
- Establish a specified break time and don’t miss it
- Before you sign off, cover what students need to do for the next class
It’s okay to adjust your routine based on students’ needs, but be sure to let them know if you need to change any plans.
Connect one-on-one with students
Positive social experiences cause the brain to release oxytocin, the “feel-good hormone.” Oxytocin helps students bond with you and their classmates, and those bonds create a feeling of psychological safety. Students who feel psychologically safe are more likely to participate in class and work toward their learning goals.
The more of these positive connection moments you can have with students, the better. Look for moments to offer encouragement and show that you value each student’s contributions.
Cultivate the qualities of patience and empathy. A struggling student is more likely to persevere when they have a teacher who understands and offers support. Be the teacher who cares, and you’ll have an impact far beyond the content of the course.
Use veteran teachers as a resource
Experienced teachers know what it’s like to be new at the job, and they’re usually willing to offer teaching tips. Connect with colleagues who’ve “been around the block” and ask if you can check in with them.
If you’re teaching virtually, ask your experienced colleagues for online teacher tips as well as general advice for new teachers. Most importantly, ask for help before things get rough. It’s always easier to keep a class going strong than to get it back on track.
No teacher is ever done learning. Even after years in the classroom, good teachers still seek out teaching advice. These new teacher tips will get you started on the right foot. From there, your students will help you grow and develop as an educator, so you get more effective with every class you teach.