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Teaching Style

Developing a Relaxed and Confident Teaching Style

Prepare

If you are leading any kind of class (for example, as lab instructor, discussion leader, lecturer for the day, instructor of record), start preparing enough in advance so that you can review and revise your plans. Read and study all text assignments or homework problems. Design a detailed lesson plan or agenda in which you break down the class session into smaller time units. Write notes to yourself about how you will adjust if your plan goes over or under your predicted time frame for each part of the class. Practice a lecture or an introduction out loud. Practice all drawings. Prepare handouts.

Evaluating student work and performance is challenging because it involves the highest level of cognitive thinking. Before you start reviewing student work, take a couple of hours to plan your commenting and grading strategies. Scanning the entire set (or a subset) of submissions will help you to understand the range in quality. Scanning individual work from beginning to end, prior to grading, enables you to respond to the overall thinking and purpose, in addition to the specifics. Also, use written scoring guides for all evaluating and grading. For courses that have multiple GAs leading discussion sections and labs, create a common scoring guide and compare your evaluations from time to time. Enlist the help of more experienced GAs and faculty mentors if you have any hesitation about the fairness of your grading.

Know and interact with students

Learn students’ names quickly, within the first two weeks if possible, and use their names. Before and after class, have conversations with individuals and with groups of students. Encourage students to talk with each other. Walk around the room, and meet and greet students who choose to sit in the far corners of the room. Do not isolate yourself in the classroom by sitting behind a desk during lab or by always standing behind a table or lectern at the front of the room. Smile; if you do not naturally smile, write notes to remind yourself. When you talk, look at students in the eye, and look at students in all parts of the room.

Develop professionalism and leadership qualities, including a sense of humor

Take charge of the classroom and develop a professional teaching demeanor. Make sure everyone has a place to sit and can see. In a lab, ensure that everyone has the materials. Welcome students, even late arrivals. Develop good chalk or whiteboard writing and drawing skills and legible handwriting; illegibility is not excusable. Impressions count, so convey enthusiasm, interest, and good humor. Be aware of the impression your clothing conveys. Project your voice and speak clearly. Do not hesitate to use a microphone if you are soft-spoken. Be alert to any difficulties individual students may have with your speaking style, such as rapid speech or an accent that some students may need help understanding. Be on time and do not leave early. Keep all office hours and appointments, and deal professionally with emergencies that you or your students may face. Return student work promptly. Resist sarcasm, especially in email or in comments on student work. Establish boundaries in the classroom and in your office by creating an approachable, professional communication style.

Engage students in intellectually interesting tasks and conversation

No matter what your role, you can enrich your students’ learning by engaging them in informal and formal discussions of the topics being covered in the class. Find interesting case studies that involve important discoveries or that highlight major debates in your discipline. Even a two-minute summary of case studies can spark student interest. Search for class-related examples from across the globe or from diverse United States cultures to give students a glimpse into the depth and breadth of the course topics. Share the story of how you became interested in the discipline and of your professional goals. Make intellectual connections with students throughout the semester, and acknowledge their ideas.

Take advantage of your common ground

It is likely that you understand the complexities of contemporary student life better than many professors do. You may have a skill with certain kinds of technology that will help you connect in positive ways. Students may appreciate hearing how you are managing your student and work responsibilities.

Talk about teaching

Meet frequently with the instructor of record or a faculty mentor and with fellow graduate students to talk about teaching. Take advantage of any teaching colloquia sponsored by the Ellbogen Center for Teaching and Learning (ECTL), your department, and/or work with your fellow graduate students to establish regular times for informal discussions of teaching in departmental lounges or seminar rooms. Seek help on problems as soon as they arise.

 

Recommended reading: Anne Curzan and Lisa Damour, First Day to Final Grade: A Graduate Student’s Guide to Teaching, 2nd edition. The University of Michigan Press, 2006.Available for check out from the ECTL library-Coe Library, room 510.

 

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