Lots of folks I know view teaching as a graduate student as a vexed opportunity/ circumstance of obtaining an advanced degree. Depending on your department, you may have very few chances to teach, or more chances than you would like. There are tons of benefits to teaching, including job experience, income, and a huge sense of accomplishment. Despite the benefits, balancing teaching and research/writing/coursework can be difficult. Oh, also, teaching can be ROUGH and definitely is lots of work. I wanted to share a few lessons I’ve figured out the hard way—through hours and hours of trial and error in the classroom.
1. Classes vary, and you will probably have to change up your teaching style to match your students in a given semester. Some classes are talkative and some are quiet. Some love group work, while others just want to listen to lectures. Be prepared to vary your teaching styles, try out new things, and definitely ask for feedback from students—I usually have a miderm eval…
2. Along the same lines, some classes are great, and some, to be real, are not. There are some groups of students that for some reason just don’t mesh. It can be easy to take that personally, but don’t jump to that assumption. Take a good look at your class, and honestly assess the situation. Are you putting in too little time? Are you unavailable to students? Are you regularly unprepared? If you answer “no” to those questions, it’s probably not your fault, so you’ll just have to muddle through. But don’t despair! You will have good classes in the future!
3. A class is always the hardest the first time you teach it. Expect to put in hours prepping and developing assignments. The flip of that, though, is that classes are much easier the second or third time around, so save your materials—and make notes on what worked best and what you would like to update…
4. If you’re feeling intimidated by teaching—and everyone I know has felt this way—a quick shot to your confidence that should help with your class is to put on your finest teaching garb and light it up! Really, it should help you feel more professional and, for me, in any case, affords me greater confidence. Sometimes you just have to fake that you are a professional/authority figure/expert and eventually you’ll believe it, and your students will too. Fake it ‘til you make it…!
5. Finally, a note for you perfectionists out there: set boundaries on how much teaching prep you do. I have definitely lost entire weeks of reading/writing to teaching: it can absolutely can take over… So you have to remember that you are also here to research and write; don’t let that side of grad school suffer. Limit the hours you can use to prep, and force yourself to be efficient and to prioritize what really needs to be done (i.e. do you really need all those hilarious photos for the PowerPoint? Probably not.).
Here’s hoping that you have a blast with teaching… It is part of the vocation for most of us and while some are more “natural” at it—in the sense of having a defined teaching style that affords someone confidence and students a good learning experience—everyone I know is always working to becoming a better teacher. It takes work and, like with most things, if at first you don’t succeed try, and try again!