Although my first teaching gig at Rutgers won’t be until next year, I did have the opportunity to TA for a film class and teach English 101 (Intro to Academic Writing) at University of Maryland, where I earned my Master’s in English Literature. Being in the front of a classroom full of undergrads for the first time can be both exciting and daunting, so here are a few lessons I’ll be sure to keep in mind when I start teaching again.
As soon as you can, try to create a sense of community within your class. If you can get your class to think of themselves as a class rather than a set of individuals fighting for a grade, you’ll have a much more enjoyable and productive time together. I tried to foster a community among my students by frequently having them work in groups during class (perhaps discussing a particular passage of the reading) and then presenting their findings to the rest of us. Not only did they love working in smaller groups (less pressure), these activities provided variety during lessons and gave me a few minutes to set up the next portion of class. I also saw many friendships grow through this process. Go Teamwork!
Make Yourself Available. Setting up mandatory conferences with students EARLY in the semester was a great way to get one-on-one face time with each of my students. During these meetings I would ask what they were hoping to get out of the rest of the semester, address any concerns, and — believe it or not — just by virtue of having a conversation with a student I found they were much more attentive and engaged during the next session. I guess they could tell I was paying attention!
Remember to have fun. Although it is important to have a plan for what you all need to cover during a particular class session, do not underestimate the power of spontaneity as a learning tool. Case in point: One English 101 session, after we’d thoroughly discussed some key elements of rhetoric (if you’re curious: ethos, pathos, and logos), a few of my students asked if I’d heard the newest, awful song making the rounds via YouTube. I hadn’t. It turns out Rebecca Black’s infamous “Friday” was all the rage, and let me tell you — as we watched the music video, my students broke into an impromptu, spot-on (and hilarious) rhetorical analysis of what we were watching. Needless to say, I was very proud of how well they had mastered the material.
How do you create a sense of community among your students? How else do you make sure your students know you are there for them? And has YouTube made an appearance in your classroom yet? What are you waiting for?!