Center for the Advancement of Innovative Teaching

Tips for New Instructors

The following piece is adapted from a posting by Mano Singham, director of Case Western Reserve University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education, on the Professional Organizational Development (POD) Listserve of January 29, 2008.  It  offers guidelines which first-time college-level instructors may find useful.

1. Go to the room where you will be teaching the day before the class and check that you know where everything is, that you know how to operate the screen and the lights and the computer hookup, and that the software is working.

(At HPU you will also learn [on a sign posted at the doorway] who teaches classes there before and after you.  To get access to the computer cabinet in the classrooms on campus, you'll need a key signed out from the Faculty Support Center at MP441. You will also need to set up a wireless username and password to log on to the computers - go to the TECH SUPPORT tab on Pipeline and scroll down to the blue box to set this up. You will be prompted to enter a username and password and click 'Submit' to activate your account.)

2. If you have checked out the class the previous day, then on the day of the class you should still go early but after a very quick check of the equipment, use the time before class begins to just chat with students as they drift in.  (If you introduce yourself, you’ll also begin to learn student names.  Learning names, and using them when you address students, is highly associated with positive evaluations.)

3. Concentrate on looking at the class, making eye contact, and speaking loudly and clearly. Most instructors talk to the "T", those students who sit in the front rows and in a line up the middle. What you should do is talk to the "U", those students who occupy the back rows and down the sides. If you speak to them, and make eye contact with them, you will project your voice adequately and will capture the T students as well.

4. Since this is your first time teaching, you will probably be nervous but that's ok. Being a little nervous is good for giving a good lecture.

5. In preparing for the class, limit yourself (for an hour class) to three or four significant ideas. Everything else you teach should relate to those ideas. You can post those ideas in the form of an outline and then as you complete one section and move to the next, help students to follow your progress by checking off what you finished. This helps students to keep track of the big picture and not get lost in the details.

6. Try not to over-prepare and end up with too much material that you rush through at the end. When teaching for the first time, it is hard to know how much is enough and teachers are so afraid of running out of material that they put in far too much. What you can do is prioritize your material into what you must do, and other stuff that you will do if you have time at the end.

7. Know how you want to end the class and make sure that you segue to that end as time runs out, rather than letting the class end on an incoherent and confused note.

8. Start promptly on time and end promptly on time.

9. Dress a little formally.  When you are well dressed, it gives you more confidence.

10. It is good to periodically ask for questions but most people don't wait long enough for students to respond. Count silently to ten before moving on and, while counting, keep an eye open for students who look puzzled but are not raising their hands. You can speak to them directly, saying something like "You look a little puzzled. Was something not clear?"

11. Always respond to questions respectfully, even if the question sounds trivial to you.

  • If a student asks a question, treat it as if it is a question from the whole class, and after initially looking at the student, shift your gaze to the whole class when you answer. It is fine if the student asks a follow-up question but avoid more than three brief exchanges with the same student. Then you should say "Let's discuss this after class."
  • If a student asks you something you do not know the answer to (even after clarification), don't try to bluff but say that it is an interesting question to which you don't know the answer right now, but that you will talk to the student, after class, and that you will investigate the issue and get back to him/her. This is particularly effective when you have the occasional smart-aleck who wants to show off by stumping the professor and asks questions involving esoteric stuff like "But what about the implications of the Smoot-Hawley tariff?" Saying you will research the question and get back to them is better than bluffing because students can usually tell when you are faking knowledge.  Realizing that one need not know everything off the top of one's head also removes a lot of the pressure to prepare error-free, comprehensive lectures.

12. Humor is tricky and I would avoid attempts at it.

13. Focus a little bit on your teaching philosophy - Why do you teach? What value do you see in your particular subject matter?  How do you see your role as a teacher and your relationship with students?  Focus on course goals and objectives and how the assignments and assessments are directly linked to the course objectives. This helps your students see the syllabus as more of a roadmap instead of a contract.