• GradHacker

    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online


Back To School

Finding your teaching groove after a long stint away from the classroom.

September 9, 2018

Deidra recently earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education from the University of Mississippi in Oxford, where she teaches in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric and in the School of Education. You can find her on Twitter at @DeidraJackson11.

Your teaching hiatus has served you well. You’ve spent a long summer or several semesters outside of the classroom, studying experimental data in your biology lab, researching archival records many miles from home, or editing dissertation chapters at the dining room table. But now, the intensive periods that you’ve devoted to deep inquiry will shift somewhat once you reorient your attention to your students. At the moment, you’ve got syllabuses and assignment calendars to create, not to mention class rosters and student outcome rubrics to examine and finalize.

While engaged in research, it may seem as though you’ve spent a lifetime out of the classroom. It can be difficult to switch gears from meeting the demands of sustained and focused independent study to, once again, returning to academic instruction and the pedagogic responsibilities that come with it. After months of intensive autonomous research, how do you effectively make that shift back into the classroom? What follows are ways to ease the transition after spending some time away from the lectern.

Get up to speed with any new developments in your field
While you were engaged in your research studies, instruction in your area continued; you may have missed significant improvements and progress or setbacks and impediments that occurred recently in your academic field. As part of your class prep, engage in a fact-finding research mission to explore these developments that may help you and your students. You also may choose to morph part of this task into an early-semester informational assignment for your students by having them investigate significant movements in their chosen field of study.

Reach out to your colleagues
When I returned to teach recently after spending three years engaged in full-time research, fellow academics, through their counsel and support, helped me ease back in the academic lecture groove and proved to be invaluable sources of effective classroom protocol, procedure, and pretty much everything else in between. My academic muscle memory served me well – I’ll always remember how to effectively run a class and deliver an engaging lecture – however, this semester I’m teaching a new subject after taking my own break from the classroom. This time my class prep included input from my teaching colleagues who helped me fill in the gaps. They willingly shared with me teaching practices that proved constructive in their own classrooms. They hipped me on how to better understand the subtle nuance within student comprehension of particular assignments. In advance of your return to the classroom, supportive instructors’ insider information also may help get you up to speed and navigate other avenues surrounding academic pedagogy for which you may feel disconnected, due to your time away from teaching.

Talk to your students
Gradhacker Trent M. Kays said a common rule he employed during the first few weeks of a new semester was to “just teach” and “stop worrying about teaching.” For some, internalizing such sentiments are easier said than done, especially when you go from being the center of one’s own academic universe as a scholarly researcher to once again (hopefully) being the focus of students’ academic universes, at least in your classroom. Find out who your students are, what they think, what they know, and what they don’t know about the discipline. While you typically have academic plans already mapped out in your syllabuses and/or assignment schedules at the start of the semester, hearing from your students and paying attention to their expectations, or lack thereof, may help you better fine-tune or adjust your day-to-day and month-to-month course teaching goals and course foci.

Use the same reliable teaching tools? Maybe not.
Grad instructors previously used to delivering lectures and managing their laboratories and lecture rooms may feel like they’ve lost their edge after returning to teach following a research leave of absence or similar long-term interruption, so they revert to the familiar, their time-tested methods of teaching. However, taking obsolete approaches now may be unproductive and detrimental to your students. It’s important to become academically enlightened after an extended absence. In teaching writing and composition, for example, the increasing impact of social media and the ubiquity of mobile and electronic devices in classrooms persists and continues to influence pedagogy. Accepting this, I plan to introduce budding college writers to the technique of writing and allow them time to understand and practice the craft; demanding strict grammar and style convention rules will come, but not yet. As I help students improve their writing proficiency, it’s important to understand that in this age, good writing supersedes good grammar, a sentiment that surely rankles some traditionalists. Along those lines, I’ve since embraced more sage advice from my colleagues since my return to teaching: First, inspire good writing.

Strategic planning and some effective study may be all it takes to regain classroom confidence for some instructors. However, being self-assured in the classroom doesn’t always mean relying on the same teaching materials year-after-year; most fields undergo significant changes as a result of fluctuating forces acting upon them, such as technology, research and development, and political, societal, historical, and cultural swings, to name a few. Instructors, through their teaching and active research, are in a unique position to apprise students of the newest transformations or fluctuations in their chosen field of study.

After a hiatus, what are some strategies you’ve used to return to the classroom? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter via @GradHacker!

[Photo taken by Unsplash user Nathan Dumlao under the Creative Commons license.]


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