Have you ever taught a class before?

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And if so, do you have any general tips?

I've actually TA'd before: for a calculus class, when I was in college, but that was pretty easy, because my students were college freshmen and had very low expectations.

-- Anonymous, May 09, 2000


Yes, many times... I have taught high school (many many many years ago) and I have taught college (as adjunct faculty while my day job was in programming) and I currently work for a really big computer company teaching software stuff to programmers.

Tips? Sure... just relax. Seriously, don't get uptight about it I always think of it as an opportunity to talk with a group of intelligent people about topics that I find interesting.

Try to speak clearly and distinctly, projecting your voice out to the room, don't mumble while looking down and reading from notes. Make eye contact. Look around the room, look directly at different people in the audience as you speak; talk to everyone, not just to one corner of the room.

Remember that different people have different ways of learning. For example, some people are more verbal while others are more visual. Use graphics when at all possible. [I teach based on what I am projecting -- either some kind of graphic or a projected image of an actual live computer screen -- and I base my presentation on what the class and I can see rather than depending on reading a prepared lecture or struggling down some bulleted list of notes or a lecture outline... it is more relaxed and informal, allows me to interact more freely with my audience and to modify my presentation to meet audience needs and/or reactions.] I generally use Lotus FreeLance (others prefer PowerPoint, etc.) on a computer projected via a fairly expensive projector. Transparencies ("foils") with an overhead projector are fine. (Quick rule-of-thumb: place your foil top of a sheet of white paper on the floor at your feet... if, looking down at it, you find any text or detail difficult to read, it is too small for most of your audience to read comforably.) Always double check the room in advance for appropriate lighting levels, screen glare, etc. If using overhead projector make sure you have a spare bulb. If the facility they give you is even lower tech than that, use white boards (or chalk boards)... and if you use white boards, remember that black, dark blue and purple are the easiest marker colors to read, then red and brown, then green, and avoid using orange or yellow. If any diagram you project is complicated or detailed and is not immediately available to them in their textbooks, pass out a hardcopy so they can concentrate on your presentation and not on attempting to redraw your diagram. (In the courses I teach, students have hardcopy of every projected screen.)

Make parts of your presentation a dialog. Get audience feedback, even if only by asking "Are you all clear on what we've covered this far?" Better yet is to ask specific questions to confirm this. Avoid calling on the same person over and over. Spread your questions around the room. Don't belittle anyone for not knowing or for answering incorrectly. "I understand why you said that, but let's think about the implications..." and "Okay, that answer is heading in the right direction... can somebody help us get closer?" ... etc. And if they don't seem to be getting it, then try rephrasing or restating the point they seem to be missing, but without blaming them. "Hmmm, perhaps I had better rephrase this to see if I can make it clearer..."

Think of the best instructors you've had. Think of the worst. Your goal is to be better that the worst and to hope to approach the best. I'm sure you have suffered through some agonizingly bad teaching during your academic career; just avoid doing what those turkeys did. And relax... you know you are sure to be better than them.

Of course, having told you to relax I must admit that I am a bit nervous about a presentation I have coming up -- moving to a new course involving a different technology base than I had based most of my career on (learning about web servers and java and Java Server Pages and Enterprise Java Beans, and LDAP, IIOP, JNDI, etc., etc.) and I am about to teach parts of a web technology course for the first time... I thought I was going to present the opening of the class, perhaps an hour or two, just to get my feet wet (I've only sat through this full week course once) but found out this week that I'm going to be presenting the entire first day, perhaps a bit more.... and this is going to happen several time zones away from where I am right now and I will be doing this presentation less than 18 hours after I arrive jet-lagged from a three leg overnight flight in economy seating... and although the course is being taught in English, my students will be French programmers who are (one hopes) sufficiently proficient in English to comprehend the material. But see, you won't have to do that... in fact you'll probably be teaching about three hours a week over the course of a semester, right? So you will have prep time, etc.

So relax. I'm sure that outside of the university you have very little chance to discuss your academic work in any kind of detail. Well, here's your chance to talk at length about the kinds of things that really interest you to an audience that is there to learn from you. Hey, they are paying for the opportunity to learn from you! And, as someone who will eventualy have to make some career choices for earning a living with a doctorate, choices that probably are (1) research (either corporate or non-profit) or (2) teaching (at a non- research-oriented college)or (3) teaching and research combined (at a university)... so this is your chance to find out if teaching pushes many of your buttons.

Good luck.


-- Anonymous, May 10, 2000

Hey, Jen!

Well, closing out the first year teaching high school after two teaching sixth grade. I'd say the most important thing is to have fun with it. This'll be easier for you since you're teaching something of your choosing. Change speeds periodically--don't do everything the same way. Make classes conversational as much as possible, but don't use cutting-edge techniques merely for their own sake (have a reason for the medium as well as for the message). If you're grading a whole lot of papers or tests, slow and steady wins the race--better to grade 6-8 every night than to save 60-80 for a weekend.

There's more, but that's what leaps to mind. I look forward to reading about what goes on.

-- Anonymous, May 10, 2000

The best thing about teaching is how much you learn from it.

I'm not trying to sound like some sort of Hallmark card here... I've found that both in formal teaching, and in, say, showing a friend how to do something in Photoshop or Flash, the experience of taking things that have become more intuitive and trying to return them to a more concrete realm will usually give you some fresh insights.

Also, maybe spend a few minutes recalling why your favorite teachers were your favorites; usually it didn't have much to do with the subject at hand. Make yourself a little mental database of the qualities you liked in those people, and see if you can bring any of that to the t

-- Anonymous, May 11, 2000

My classes are 90 minutes long. I try to spend the first 15-25 minutes on a new, self-contained exercise, which I call the warm-up. I hand it out right there in class so they don't get distracted rooting through their bags trying to find something from last week. It focuses the group and gives us some time for the latecomers to arrive. After the warm-up, we spend most of the time going over the previous week's assignment.

Don't take late papers. It's hard enough to correct 25 copies of each week's homework without also having to correct some that you've forgotten the answers to.

-- Anonymous, May 12, 2000

General Tip: You get back what you put in.

General Tip: Know your material well enough to point students to the proper place for an answer.

General Tip: Be friendly with students. Appropachability is important.

General Tip: Bring material down to their level when teaching.

General Tip: Be available.

-- Anonymous, May 16, 2000

I'm just completing my second year of teaching undergraduates, and one of my mantras is "They are not the enemy." I think it's easy to slip into an us vs. them frame of mind. As in "Why don't they try harder," "Why don't they listen," etc. But in reality, you're in it together and they want to like you. Almost all your students want to get something out of your class, and it makes it more pleasant for them if they like you.

The other main thing I've picked up is to vary my class. I try to distribute time equally between lecture, discussion, and directed small group work. It seems difficult for students to concentrate on any one style of learning for more than 30-45 minutes so it's good to break it up.

Good luck!

-- Anonymous, May 16, 2000

Be very organized. Know what you want them to learn before you walk in the door. It's called having objectives. If you are doing something just to do it (busywork), they can smell it.

Another thing they can smell is if you're not prepared, or if you're bullshitting when you don't know the answer. It's OK to say, "I don't know." But then find out.

Don't ask questions you don't know the answer to.

I'm not sure if this applies to what you're teaching or not, but if they're doing something you don't like (talking, coming to class late, not contributing enough) act annoyed before you really are. Once you are truly annoyed at them, it's hard to pull yourself back. If you act annoyed, they get the message and you aren't all emotional.

Have a system for EVERYTHING. People like order. They like to know what to expect. They like routines. They should know what their job is as soon as they walk in the room. Post it on the board, or have it be the same thing every day. It will save you time in the end when you don't have to answer a bunch of procedural questions every day--pretty soon, the classroom organizations stuff will run itself.

I'm pretty long-winded for a teacher who just quit teaching!


-- Anonymous, May 17, 2000

I taught History for six years-- undergraduates, grad students, military officers. I love teaching-- and not just because you get the free desk copies of books you assign and because you get to flirt with co-eds. I love talking about ideas, opening up avenues of discussion, hearing how books and ideas affect people... And it's a great life: you get paid for telling stories about topis you like anyway!

-- Anonymous, June 05, 2000

I teach C++ programming every now and then for the local community college. All of the suggestions in this thread are excellent, I'd just add one thing. Don't let the students take advantage of you.

I tell my students that no one who really tries can possibly fail my course. I define "really tries" as doing all the homework, studying for the tests, and seeking help from me early on.

I think it's important to take attendence even if it doesn't directly affect the student's grade. If nothing else it's documentation you may need if a student wants to complain about you. That hasn't happened to me yet, but it has to many of my fellow instructors.

Every course it seems like I have one student who just quits showing up. He will show up on the day of the final with some kind of lame excuse about being sick or something, and ask for an incomplete and want me to let them do all the work and take all the tests at some vague time in the future.

I never give incompletes. I tell the students up front, in writing, that if they don't have time to come to class and do the homework for whatever reason then they must drop the course. I am not in a position to reteach the whole course for someone after the semester is over.

-- Anonymous, September 12, 2000

I was a TA for undergrad Statistics, and I later taught undergrad Evidence Procedures. The stats class was awful. It was required, the students were rude, grossly unprepared for college (lacking even basic multiplication skills), and many of them didn't even bother to show up. I tried, I really did. But by the fourth week I decided to devote my resources to the kids who really wanted to be there, and cared about their grades, rather than worry about the ones who were there so they wouldn't get kicked off welfare .I could go off on a long tangent about welfare reform, but I'll save that for another thread.

Evidence was better. I really enjoyed it, and felt lucky after the stats experience, to be teaching students who cared about the material.

A lot of good advice above. I'd also add, keep them engaged. Don't just lecture, stop and ask questions often. Use a seating chart and learn everyone's name. I also assigned written homework for every class, to make sure they kept up with the reading (which was a problem at my school, it might not be so much at yours).

-- Anonymous, September 14, 2000

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