The semester has begun for most of us, and like many other semesters, most of us are teaching or TAing or doing something in the classroom. Teaching truly is one of the loves of my life. I find it invigorating, challenging, and, often, nerve-racking. But, I wouldn't have it any other way. I realized long ago that I belong in front of the classroom; however, I know that some of my colleagues sometimes struggle in front of a classroom. They're nervous, trembling, and unsure of themselves. While teaching surely isn't for everyone, it still is something that's expected from most graduate students, so you should be comfortable in front of a classroom. I know the title of this piece may seem shocking, but I've held to this philosophy, since I began teaching. It works for me. The most planning I do is putting together the syllabus for a class at the beginning, but I then just relax and teach. That's it.
It's a simplified approach to the first few weeks, and one that I feel can encourage relaxation and a fun learning environment. During the first week, I put all my students into a circle, and we talk about the course, what they want to get out of it, and we work together to figure out exactly what assignments we find interesting. I take a very democratic approach to my classroom because it makes students feel involved from the start, and it's important that they’re invested in the course.
I try to follow three rules for the first two weeks of the new semester:
- Be Flexible: we all know things change. So, it's important to know that we don't need to rush through the first few meetings, and we don’t need to worry about getting behind. This is a time to get to know your students and really think about how the semester might go.
- Be Relaxed: I've never been nervous in front of a classroom, and that's what partly convinced me that I belonged there; however, I know people who are trembling wrecks in front of a classroom. Take a deep breath, sit down, and just have a conversation with your students. Talk to them. Don't talk at them.
- Just Teach: do it. You can do it. You're strong because if you weren't, then you probably wouldn't be a graduate student. To be a graduate student in today's academy is to be tough. We have to be tough to take criticism, balance classes, balance family, balance our social lives, and work. It's in our nature to not give up, so stop worrying about teaching and just teach!
These rules have helped me get through many semesters, and I love them. I get up in front of a classroom and teach, and I love it. I think if you have troubles with teaching, then you should give these rules a try. I think you'll be successful.
What rules, thoughts, or maxims do you follow when starting a new semester of teaching?
Photo by Flickr user kvanhorn // Creative Commons license: CC-BY