Reflective Practice

Advice for the First-Time Teacher

“Umbrellas near Borough” by Nagarjun Kandukuru licensed under CC 2.0:

By Sakina Laksimi-Morrow

When I  started teaching I had no idea what I was doing. I had graduated with a Masters degree that had put me in a precarious situation: professionally, I wasn’t qualified for anything, and academically, I was in no-man’s land. In my first round of Ph.D. applications I was not accepted anywhere, and I spent the following summer frantically applying for teaching and non-teaching positions. I gladly took a job teaching GED preparation courses, even when I wasn’t sure what that entailed.  Shortly after I landed adjunct teaching jobs at several area colleges, and by my first year post-graduation I had taught twelve undergraduate courses.

That was four years ago, and the journey since then has been guided by my commitment to developing my craft of teaching. I have  always been simultaneously teaching and learning, roles that have become inseparable over the years. These kernels of advice for new college instructors come from someone who muddled through, and emerged with a deep respect for teaching and an enduring belief in the capacity for transformational change that can happen in the classroom.

  • Don’t worry about the small age gap between yourself and the students. They will not respect you less, they will relate to you more.
  • Always show up on time, with hand-outs, a lesson plan, and the willingness to learn from the flops and failures that will inevitably occur.
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, that’s okay. Turn it into a mini research project with your students.
  • Don’t clutter your course with busy work. It becomes counter-productive for all involved.
  • Sometimes students will not show up, will sleep in class, won’t do their work, and will fail the course. You will be tempted to think that it’s your fault, or take it personally. Don’t.  Sometimes students have a lot going on, so do what you can and maintain compassion and respect for them all.
  • Find interesting materials for students to read and watch. Even when you are required to assign a set of readings from your department, try to supplement them with pieces that students will enjoy.
  • No one has really prepared you for the college classroom, so don’t worry so much if you are not brilliant right out of the gate. Teaching is a craft that is developed over time.

Sakina Laksimi-Morrow is a TLC Fellow and a Ph.D. student in Urban Education at the Graduate Center.

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