I have to teach for the first time in my life and I’m freaking out!
I’m gonna teach immunology to 3rd year medical students. Actually, I think I’m going to be some sorts of TA. I graduated last year from medical school, and my problem is that I’m… kinda… soft. Do you know Toby, the HR guy from The Office? Well, I’m like that, only with girly bits. And I barely look 18 (I’m 25!). I’ve read some previous threads about this, but they were mostly about younger kids (these are 20-21).
I’m really afraid that they will run me over, that my voice will falter, that I’ll forget to tell them something important, that I won’t know the answer to a question, that I won’t be able to explain stuff clearly, and about a million other things. How can I make them care, listen, remember (at least some of them)? What do I do if they are rowdy? What if that doesn’t work? What then? I don’t have the look, never did, probably never will, so don’t go there.
My first suggestion would be to over prepare. Once you’re out there teaching, just do the best you can and enjoy the experience. You’re teaching 20 year olds and your worried about classroom management? Try teaching eleven year olds! I wouldn’t be too worried about it, if you lose them they are more likely to passively wait the class out.
If you don’t know the answer, be honest about it. If you care, write the question down and get back to them later. You’ll never know it all, and no one should expect you too, but you should try to help people find their way to the correct answer.
Start with something fun, maybe a far side cartoon? A joke? A story about the day? Everyone likes storys.
The simple answer is confidence…nothing else matters as long as you know what your talking about. If they see someone who knows there stuff and is confident they will listen, end of story. If they don’t, do not be afraid speak up. When you first meet them act like you have been doing this forever, they will not know the difference. Trust me it’s all about confidence in yourself…you don’t even have to have it, you just have to make them think you do. Works every time!
Be interested in what you are talking about. If you can’t get it up for the class, don’t expect your students to. That has made a huge differenct to me with all my teachers. The ones that are just going through the motions are the ones I don’t study enough for.
You and they are on the same side and want the same thing: for them to learn. As long as you have this attitude, I think they’ll be more cooperative and less adversarial than what you’re fearing.
Be organized. Arrange what you’re going to say in a logical order, and come to class prepared with what you’re going to say and do.
Put yourself in their place. Explain things in a way you would want them explained if you were they. Don’t assume they know things they might not know, but don’t talk down to them. It never hurts to remind them of things they need as background to understand the new material you’re trying to teach them.
If possible, look at them occasionally (as opposed to keeping your eyes fixed on your notes, the board, etc.), move around a bit, and don’t speak in a monotone.
I was in the same position last year (except it were third year polisci students). I found most students are quite mature and are there by choice; they want to learn and will not be out to disrupt classes. Also one of the things I realised during the short training I got (three meetings) was that I had a tendency to underestimate the students; you shouldn’t be too elaborate in your explanations, if they don’t get something, they will ask.
I believe you’re absolutely right. How do I fake confidence?
Oh yes! This is Romania, not the US. Things work differently here… Medical school is… not that great. For example, I just found out today that I’m doing this, tomorrow I’ll find out what the first class is about, and my first class is on Thursday (if I’m really lucky, next Thursday). So I have 2 days to prepare. Now, I know immunology (I’m a first year resident in allergology/immunology), but it’s not really organized and I’m not going to be able to talk about one subject for 2 hours. I plan to make it interactive, and connect the new information with what they already know from other subjects (and refresh their memory, if they need it). My immunology TA was really, really good at this; he made me feel like I already knew everything.
@ShelliBean: I am interested it it, of course! I think it’s really, really cool! But I hope I can transmit that.
Thank you for your replies so far. Keep them coming!
Over-prepare is right. The most shocking thing you learn your first times teaching is that you have to prepare to talk for three hours just to be ready for one. (but it gets more correctly aligned once you have some experience)
Also important, variations in tone of voice, your physical placement, your lecture vs question time. Plan all of this with three alternatives. All of these make it more engaging (and thus more successful) (which is why over-prepared works–allows you to read the room and dump failed strategies and adapt successful ones on the fly)
And,of course, treat everyone fairly and be willing to make fun of yourself.
Teaching is as fun a job as I’ve ever had–even though you get the nerves right beforehand, once you lose them and just go off, it’s quite fun, sometimes even a rush.
One thing I learned my first time out teaching (18 years old, teaching the government merit badge to a bunch of high school-age boy scouts) is to ask a lot of questions of your students. Instead of just laying out all the facts, ask them to provide you with the answers. It makes the students feel more involved, as if they are building the information together with the teacher, instead of just having someone talk at them.
Also, definitely have your notes typed out ahead of time. Write your notes up on a projector or a chalk board as you go along. (I know this is basic stuff, but you mentioned it was your first time, so…)
You know the material so that’s one advantage right there.
If at all possible (and obviously you’re on a short lead time) practice what you’re going to say; if you will be delivering a lecture, write it down and practice it out loud in front of a mirror a couple of times. Sounds silly but it works for all kinds of public speaking (I’m very comfortable getting up in front a large crowd and talking, some people fear it more than death). You’ll notice where you say “Um” a lot or wave your hands uselessly or have to keep looking down at your notes and you can take care of that by practicing.
Involve the students; you said that you’ll make it interactive which is good. If you use a little Socratic method and ask them a lot of questions they’ll be paying attention (if for no other reason than they don’t want to look silly when you ask them “…and Fred, how would you test for XYZ allergy?”).
Remember that it’s their first time learning the material - things that you may take for granted may be brand new to them.
Look people in the eye; don’t stare at your notes, a chalkboard, the back of the room, etc. As you are talking, look at one person for a few seconds and kind of talk to them, then switch to another person and so on. Project your voice, speak loud enough to be heard (no mumbling) and slowly enough that you have time to breath. Walk around a little. If you are writing things up on a board make a point of turning around to look at the class and speak to them often.
If someone isn’t paying attention that’s a great person to aim your next question at (I did this all the time as a TA in engineering grad school). It takes about one or two questions for people to realize that goofing off means they will get called on. Another good thing to do if one or two people are talking is to stop and just look at them. The room will get quiet, the talkers will look up and realize that everyone in the room is looking at them and they’ll generally shut up. Then just pick up where you left off. A third thing you can do is pause and say “Do you have a question?” If there is, great, if not, they tend to get the point. In several years of teaching I don’t think that I ever had to tell a college student to be quiet or behave, these methods worked very well. And you can do it in an “adult manner”, meaning you don’t glare or pound on them verbally. Just confident and polite.
Remember that you are the voice of experience in the room. Enjoy teaching! It’s a lot of fun and very rewarding when you see somebody’s eyes light up and that “Oh, I get it” expression hits their face.
I’m terribly shy, so public speaking does not come easily to me. However, I’ve been coaching baseball now for 21 years, which makes standing in front of a group and talking far less stressful. Here are a couple tips off the top of my head, with a little overlap with stuff mentioned above:
Move around a bit. Giving the students a moving target gives the illusion of the teaching being more dynamic, even if you’re speaking in monotone. It also helps hide any nervous fidgeting you may be doing.
Ask the class questions at the end of point. This helps ensure they are paying attention and keeps them engaged as well as providing a little mini-review.
Try to look each student in the eyes at least once during the lecture and make extra sure you look at the people on the sides of the class rather than stayiong focussed directly ahead. Again, this helps to engage the students and, since your head is moving around, adds another dynamic element.
Don’t race. Often people start talking really fast in an effort to get it over with as quickly as possible. Remember to breathe and enunciate.
Try to mix in a little humor. Getting the students to smile or chuckle a bit puts them at ease and gets them on your side.
This is awesome advice, really concrete! Thank you!
Yeah, it’s a great feeling when you “get it”.
@Dread Pirate Jimbo: I’m shy, too, and I’ve only spoken in public about 5 times, each time for about 10 minutes, and I was breathless by the end. This is different, because I won’t be doing all the talking, so I have time to catch my breath.
All in all, I think this makes good experience (even if it doesn’t go that great the first time), and it has potential to be fun (if it goes mostly well). (I’m trying to give myself a pep talk :p)
Some excellent advice so far. I still remember the first time I had to stand in front of a college class. My knees were weak, my hands were shaking, and I was barely able to stammer what I had to say. Things got better as the semester progressed. Part of it was getting to know the students and them knowing me. I spoke with more confidence and actually looked forward to going to class! When I read the student evaluations at the end of that first semester I learned about ways to improve and I tried hard to change (such as not standing in front of what I was writing on the board!). One thing I’ve learned to do is to put myself in the position of my students. What would really help them learn the material? How can I make the lectures more interesting? How can I relate the material to their everyday life? Today I’m far removed from that first class, but I’m still trying to get better.
And the point about projecting confidence is very important. You’ll lose students if they feel that you don’t know what you’re taking about. You’re not going to be the ideal teacher overnight. Everyone has their own style of teaching. Just teach and learn.
Lots of good advice so far, except that I disagree with having the students answer too many questions. Many, many, people learn best by being the fly on the wall and randomly asking questions of the students can have unintended consequences. I call it the lottery effect, and it’s when a student so dreads being picked to answer a question in front of the class, that they become too anxious to absorb anything they hear.
IMO it’s rare to pull a painfully shy person out of their shell, and certainly not in a couple of hours. Perhaps you can choose the outgoing and eager looking students to answer questions. Alternatively, or in addition, you could devote 5 minutes every half-hour or so to a sort of mini-break and go to each of the students in a one-on-one fashion while the others chat amongst themselves(though the class may be too large for this to be reasonable).
A lot of good advice in this thread. One thing people are emphasizing is that it helps if you can give the impression of being dynamic–move around in front of the class, modulate your voice a lot (to avoid lecturing in a monotone, you really need to over-inflect), make eye-contact with your students, etc. Be very conscious of how much you say ‘um’, ‘uh’, etc.
Also–and keep this in mind–your students will be smart (and some will be smarter than you), but none of them will know the material better than you. I remember how nervous I was when I started TAing, and what a shock it was to realize that for students first encountering the material, it was difficult for many of them to remember which author expounded which theory, or to define the theories, much less to be able to expound on the finer points. You, for whom this stuff is your bread and butter, forget what it is to come to this stuff as an outsider. So don’t be intimidated by them.
Do you have any access to powerpoints or computer/media presentations? That always helps to put their attention on something other than your face. Perhaps some really gross stuff? (We’re studying bacteria now, and I’ve been showing mine the results of gangrene.)That’ll get their attention.
Yeah, I can do powerpoints, and I plan to tell them to present something they’re interested in, for extra points. I talked to my supervisor today, and now I’m rehearsing!
@palacheck: I was just going to ask stuff, and who answers, answers. I don’t like being put on the spot either. Of course, this could have the downside that I’ll only be talking to 3 people. The class is large, indeed. There’s 45-50 of them!!!
And, if all else fails, I’ll try this:
Thank you all! On Thursday I’ll tell you how it went!