- You have little teaching experience, but you're committed to becoming a good teacher. How should you begin?
Research shows that college instructors not only have a major impact on how much their students learn but also on their students' evolving attitudes toward learning. Below are some guidelines to help create an effective-learning environment that engages your students:
Encourage students to explore and then articulate how what they're learning in your course is applicable not only to their interests but also to their other courses. Through their assignments and in informal conversations, ask them to consider these connections. For example, you might ask students to discuss together, write independently, or role play about how they envision the information they are exposed to in your course could be used by them in their chosen fields or in their chosen careers.
Challenging-but-achievable, meaningful, hands-on, and minds-on learning experiences will always motivate your learners. You can provide these experiences by establishing clear learning goals, active-learning assignments, and by helping students explore how your course connects with their lives, with their other courses, and with their careers. Research also shows that students are engaged by dynamic instructors who show passion for their disciplines.
Assessment should be clear, should be directly related to your course goals, and should contribute to the overall learning process.
If you aren't clear with your students about what you plan to assess and how you plan to assess it, you can expect them to become frustrated and overwhelmed. In your syllabus, consider listing your specific learning outcomes, and then explain how you intend to assess students' achievement of those outcomes. For complex assignments such as presentations or papers, it may help your students if you provide rubrics that outline key areas of focus and levels of mastery.
A well-designed course with specific learning outcomes will promote student learning. You already know how frustrating it is when an instructor lectures about one thing in class but asks about another on the test. For effective teaching, keep this simple plan in mind: Align your student learning outcomes, instructional methods, assignments, and assessment. For example, if one of your learning outcomes is that students will "know how to interpret the quantitative results of a research article," it doesn't make much sense for students to simply memorize statistical formulas and regurgitate these formulas on a test. Because you set a learning outcome for students to be able to interpret results, you should assess them on this interpretation skill.
"Formative assessment" can provide your students with feedback on what they've learned and allows them an opportunity to improve upon it. But does this mean more work for you? Not if design your course wisely. You might even consider having your students assess one another's work, revise it, and then submit the revision to you. Student-to-student assessment is beneficial to both the creator and the reviewer of the work.
Adjusting poorly to college can be related to poor college preparation, learning difficulties, or psychological distress. UC offers several campus resources for students who experience such problems. If your students confide in you about their struggles, or if you notice students having a tough time, maybe you can help them out. Sometimes students simply need encouragement or suggestions for more effective studying. But other times, student problems are far beyond your expertise. You can help those more difficult students find the appropriate campus resources. Those resources designed to help students with academic, financial, and personal issues are listed below.
Remember, thoughtfulness goes a long, long way, so we recommend that you tactfully follow up with your students after you've made any of these referrals.
Preparation, preparation, preparation. Be prepared with active-learning plans for each class meeting, and be prepared for disruptions so you're not caught off guard. Decide beforehand how you will handle the more common classroom disruptions: cell phone use, texting during class, disruptive talking, and students showing disrespect toward you or other students. Consider reading our ProfPost article on incivility in the classroom.
In your syllabus and through your actions, be clear about your expectations for classroom behavior. Your confident presence in the classroom helps to ensure a successful-learning environment for all of your students. Passive learning leaves room for disruptive behavior, so strive to design classes that engage both hands and minds. If a disruptive situation arises, try addressing it in a way that re-engages your students in learning. Unaddressed, disruptive behaviors will likely continue if you don't handle them immediately.
For situations in which you or your students no longer feel safe, call the Campus Police: 556-3911
Would you want to attend your own class? If students feel that attending your class is boring or confusing, or if they consider what you teach them to be useless in their lives or in their careers, then you can expect to have trouble with students skipping your class. However, given that you have created an effective learning environment, it is reasonable that you should expect good attendance.
Having your attendance policy clearly stated in your syllabus will save you a lot of time and will eliminate back-and-forth emails about whether or not you'll excuse broken-down cars, grandmother deaths, puking, pulled muscles, a strict boss, etc. You may wish to inquire among your department faculty for samples of syllabi containing different types of attendance policies.
Uh, probably not. The safest approach is to keep your relationships with students strictly academic, especially while they are enrolled in your class. However, developing close relationships with students is enriching for both the teacher and the learner. As you become more personally involved with students, it may help to keep these insights in mind:
You don't know everything, and you don't have to. If your students stump you with questions, that's a good thing—it gives your students some insight into how a smart person in your discipline goes about problem solving, and this is a skill invaluable to their educations.
You may find it helpful to remember that there are many different ways of answering their many different questions—you can always acknowledge the questions that stump you as challenging ones and try to show students how you might go about thinking through the answer to it. Even better, consider this a great learning opportunity and ask for volunteers to research the question and report back. You can also invite those students who have laptops in class to research the question right then and there on the internet. This is also a good opportunity to direct them to great internet resources such as CNN, the government census, The NY Times and also to academic search engines.
The university has guidelines for dealing with academic dishonesty and plagiarism; however, it is ultimately the course instructors who decide how they'll deal with this issue.
Proactive, open discussions regarding academic dishonesty and its consequences—including addressing this issue on your syllabus and during your first class meetings—will help students understand that working honestly through difficult problems and assignments will improve their learning and will make them more educated people. And ensuring that students are clear about your definition and your consequences of academic dishonesty can prevent the dreaded "I didn't know!" scenario.
While many instances of dishonesty are obvious, most will occur in what are considered the gray areas. For example, some students may not understand when they've crossed the line from paraphrasing and into plagiarism because they may not know how to cite information correctly. This can be especially true of students who come from educational systems or cultures that define plagiarism differently. Providing students with information about these boundaries at the beginning of the course keeps their responsibility in these matters ever before them.
If you determine that students have taken "shortcuts" rather than doing the work in your class, use consequences that deter this behavior in the future but also allow them to learn from this experience. One possibility is to allow students to resubmit their work according to the policies you have listed in your syllabus for work that is late. Additionally, you might require them to present additional papers on plagiarism...maybe a paper that requires a conference with you. The more serious offenses can result in failure of the assignment or the course; this action, of course, should be initiated by your department chair or program director. Remember, you're a GTA, and you do not/should not have a lot of power in this area.