So You’ve Decided To Teach A Class

Hello everyone and welcome to spring semester! In honor of the start of classes, I thought I would share some thoughts on teaching.

My university allows some graduate students to teach undergrad courses, which gives the undergraduate students a wider variety of elective courses and frees up tenured faculty for research projects. This semester I was given the opportunity to teach Motivation and Emotion, and on Tuesday, I presented my first lecture. Throughout the semester I will post updates on my teaching experience, starting with the first week.

If you have never taught before, taking on the role of professor can be intimidating. You are being put in charge of someone’s education. They will hear what you say and most likely assume that it is true. What if they think that I have no idea what I am doing? What if I made the syllabus too difficult? Too easy? What if the students stage an open revolt? That last one is probably not the most likely scenario.

I have found that fellow professors can be an invaluable resource for new teachers. After all, a seasoned professor already knows the ins and outs of the university, how to craft a syllabus, how much work is too much (or not enough) to expect of the students in 16 weeks. Besides, they would not be in that line of work if they did not enjoy sharing their expertise with others. A friend/classmate of mine has patiently tolerated all of my questions. I was also lucky enough to obtain the contact information of my predecessor for this course, who graciously sent me a copy of her syllabus and her exams for points of reference.

So, with syllabus in hand, I arrived to my first class early with visions of Ted Mosby in my head as inspiration ( I immediately learned why most of my professors arrive either exactly on time or a few minutes late: It is somewhat awkward to sit at the front of the class watching the clock. You cannot start because most of the students have not arrived yet, and the ones who have arrived are watching you expectantly, waiting for you to begin.

Despite my consultations for becoming a successful professor, I felt uncertain about my ability to run an entire class for a full semester. After 25 students arrived for the first day, I introduced myself and asked them, “What are you expecting from this class? What do you want to get out of being here?” 25 pairs of eyes stared blankly back at me, avoiding direct eye contact for fear that I would call on one of them. I guess I will have to rely on my other resources.

I am excited to “learn by doing” as a new professor. I will do my best to be flexible and knowledgeable and help my students get their tuition dollars’ worth. But I think my favorite part about teaching will be the fact that my students have to laugh at my bad jokes because I control their grades. (I’ll try not to let it go to my head.)

So far, I do not think I am qualified to advise others about teaching, but my advice to Future Amy is the same that I have given myself for my past student presentations: TED talks are fantastic fillers if you are short on time, great shoes can never hurt a good presentation, and do not wait for the last minute to put it together. Tonight I am ignoring my own advice on that third one, so I will end this blog post and get to work. My students are counting on me to talk so that they do not have to.