If you are – and feel – totally prepared for your first time teaching at university, please contact us so we can give you an award – something like a hen’s tooth or a rainbow hair from a unicorn’s tail, something that reflects just how rare you are.
For the majority of us, the first time teaching at university was akin to being thrown into the deep end of a pool and told to swim 100 metres – after only having watched other people swim. Some of us, before our first class, had been taught how to swim – but on land. A few had actually been in water – but only up to our knees in a kids’ pool. Some of us had been shown free style, only to find breast stroke was best for the pool conditions. Some of us were fully equipped before we started, with whatever the teaching equivalent of goggles and a swimming cap and a costume that makes you look like a seal it’s so sleek. Others only got to use the equivalent of the suit that’s left behind on the changing room floor after the last swimming carnival.
But we all got thrown into the deep end, regardless.
And to drag the analogy out even further, for some of us, that first university pool turned out to be a comfortable temperature and reasonably shallow. For others, it was very cold and deep.
So for those of you who are just about to start teaching this semester, whether it’s a guest lecture or tutorials or an entire unit, and you feel utterly un(der)-prepared, keep calm. It’s part of the process to feel that way. Completely normal.
And take it from me, it’s also completely normal to be lulled into a false sense of security in that first class; just because you all seem to be bonding as a learning community in that first lesson, doesn’t mean that further down the track people aren’t going to make it clear that:
a) they would rather be anywhere else but in this class right now
b) this stuff is hard, and why do we have to do this
c) this doesn’t make sense, and you talking at us isn’t helping
d) just give me the piece of paper already, I need a job
Teaching is hard, and teaching other adults who have busy and full lives with jobs and kids and dogs/cats/snakes and second jobs and mortgages and rent, is particularly difficult in ways that I don’t think has ever really been acknowledged anywhere. (If it has, please point me to it because I have Opinions on this.)
And for the most part, the VAST majority of us taught our first university class / lecture / tutorial / seminar / lab with no actual teaching qualifications (!) or experience (!!) and only some (extremely vague) ideas about what needed to be done and said in that first class.
My first class went this way (and if you read it all without taking a breath, that’s what it actually felt like):
Introduce yourself (remember your name, it’s Karina); get students to introduce themselves (remember their names, all fifty of them); do an icebreaker (don’t blurt out anything super embarrassing about yourself); go through the unit guide (tell students that this exists, that it’s important, and it’s to their benefit if they read it); go through the unit assessments; introduce the iLearn unit; agree on expectations for the class (“if your phone rings during the class, I get to answer it”); remind students of further assistance available on campus (the Library, Learning Skills, Careers, English language centre, Campus Wellbeing, other critical services that nonetheless you forget to mention); commiserate all together over parking and/or public transport ‘interruptions’ and how long it takes to get to the university.
Then talk about the actual subject.
Bring the passion.
And the hook.
At the end of it all ask if anyone has any questions about anything. If all goes well, someone will actually ask a question and it’ll be one that you can answer, and correctly. If you can’t answer it (correctly), use this phrase:
“I know you’ll find this extremely hard to believe but I don’t know the answer to that. Let me find out for you and ask me about it next time if I don’t remember”.
No matter how long that first class is (an hour) or how long it feels (decades), somehow doing all the above always takes up more time than is allocated. So expect that. You won’t have time to breathe properly, let alone throw up from nerves (more on the Terrors of Teaching in an future post!).
Now some good news. There is help for people who are very new to teaching at Macquarie.
The Teaching Induction Program (TIP) is a self-paced iLearn unit with modules that are useful for those that are new to teaching and/or new to teaching at Macquarie. Find your Faculty Learning and Teaching team, buy them a coffee as advance thanks for how helpful they are going to be to you throughout your time here, and ask them how you can participate in TIP.
While MQ’s Foundations in Learning and Teaching (FiLT) is undergoing a renovation, here are some more links for those are new to teaching:
Swinburne University of Technology is leading an open access course Contemporary Approaches to University Teaching. It’s particularly useful in that a) it’s based in and on the Australian university context and sector; b) it’s got all the essentials of university teaching with links to the scholarly (also Australian!) literature on university learning and teaching; and c) the forums are helpful for good practice teaching tips and tricks.
Also, there’s this good article on university lesson planning.
Finally, to all of you who will be teaching for the first time this session, best of luck. You’re joining the rest of us on what is seriously one of the most enjoyable and challenging professions out there. You’ll have days feeling like you could burst from the joy and days where you’ll feel like bursting into tears. Truthfully, most days will be, “Well, eh – that went okay but could have been better. What I might do next time is…”
And you keep on swimming.