August 28, 2012

Teaching Tip #2

Never teach the first week of the semester.  Yes, seriously.  It's really only two or three 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hour sessions.

Only minutes after calling the roll and engaging in the obligatory "ice-breaker," many instructors rush to the board providing frenzied notes on "The Writing Process" or sweating through awkward silences surrounding the "What is Literature?" question.  This is a really bad idea.

In an any college course, in which students and instructors alike plan to spend an inordinate amount of time together, there are more important things to cover the first week.  The writing process, literature, and rhetoric won't mean anything at all if students never do the reading, never submit assignments on time, or seldom show up to class.  Besides, after the first week, you have 15 more to teach until you're blue in the face.

So what should you do the first week if you're not going to teach?

Day 1/2
First, don't be afraid to talk about yourself.  Here's the time to dust off that CV and expound upon the glory that is you.  Seriously, your students actually want to know that stuff.  They want to know that the person in charge of teaching them Twentieth-Century American Lit. or Composition and Rhetoric is overly qualified to do so.  This is all about establishing your own ethos.

Next, read the entire syllabus (as students read along with you).  This may sound terribly dull and ridiculous. However, this is a crucial component to a successful semester.  As we all know, we spend days (sometimes weeks) laboring over our course syllabi only to never have it read.  Or to constantly respond to every student inquiry with, "It's in the syllabus."  Let's face it.  The syllabus is a rhetorical, contractual document between instructor and student.  And as the instructor of record, you must ensure that everyone is clear about your expectations for the course.  So, yes, read it.  Skip to the important parts, the "pink elephants" in the room -- the Attendance Policy, the Late and/or Make-up work policy, the course schedule, and any other policies and procedures that are deal breakers for you.  Students will appreciate this in the end.  Often times, we hide behind our syllabi instead of standing in front them.

Day 2/3
Get to know your students in a real purposeful way.  Outside of the 15 minute ice-breaker, create an exercise that allows you to find out their motivations, their expectations for the course, and their career and professional aspirations.  This is not a "pop psychology" moment.  This is a time to take quick notes about each student so that you can begin constructing course readings, discussions, and assignments predicated on the interests and motivations of the students in your classroom.

If you have time left over, troubleshoot any of the technologies that the students will use in the course.  

And finally, be ready to teach week two.