Well done! You’ve been appointed to teach a college module and you’re really looking forward to the experience. You know your topic and whilst you’re very confident about your expertise in your subject or discipline, you’re a little more apprehensive about your ability to teach.
Like many other competences, effective college teaching involves a mix of knowledge, skills and disposition. There is certainly a continuum between the novice teacher (albeit subject expert) and the more experienced and accomplished teacher.
The good news is that you have a lot going for you from the start. Subject expertise is a necessary but not a sufficient qualification for good teaching. Your in-depth understanding of your topic is a stable foundation upon which to build your repertoire of abilities as a teacher.
The first tip is really an imperative and it’s perfectively captured in the phrase “It’s not all about me”. Many novice teachers naturally focus on their own performance. They prepare meticulously for what they will cover in each lecture. They design an extensive bank of slides for each class and they organise tasks for the students to complete between each session.
Sounds like ideal preparation! And yes, all teachers should be encouraged to prepare well and to think about the tasks the students need to accomplish in order to build their knowledge. However, the missing ingredient in ‘all about me’ teaching is the focus on the student.
You need to start and finish and at all points in-between stay focused on student learning as the goal and purpose of teaching.
Ask yourself the following questions and then devise strategies to glean the answers
- what is the current level of knowledge and understanding among the students of your topic?
- are there potential flaws in their pre-existing comprehension?
- how confident are the students in their abilities to learn this topic?
- is there a range of abilities in the class, if so where is the baseline and where is the optimum?
- how long will it take to learn and how much effort will be required?
- do the students know what is expected of them and what kind of assessments they will undertake?
- do the students know what to do if they can’t follow the material?
- how will you know how well the students’ knowledge is progressing as you teach the module?
The questions above could be arranged as a checklist for your preparation. It’s ok to write ‘not yet known’ beside any of the questions provided you have a plan in place as to how to get the answer.
So, now you see the difference. Your first class may involve some questions and answers. Some group work to gather insights on prior knowledge. Some instructions on how to approach the topic and how and where to get support.
You might be nervous as a first time teacher but you can also be sure that your students will also be apprehensive. By shifting the focus from your performance to their learning you take much of the the angst out of the situation.
The purpose of teaching is to bring about learning. Stay with that idea and you will always be an effective teacher.