first teaching job

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar.

Congratulations! You have made it through a grueling application and interview process and beaten out dozens (if not hundreds) of applicants for your new teaching position. However, now that you are in charge of your own classes, how do you prepare?

As graduate students, we are often taught the intricacies of how to conduct and publish research. However, for many who have not had the experience to serve as a teaching assistant—or had any prior teaching experience at all—we often lack the preparation to serve as the main instructor for our own courses.

For this post I provide a few suggestions based on my first time teaching a course. Additionally, I highlight the perspectives of a few colleagues in the field who provided advice they would give to someone teaching their first class.

Preparing for the minutia of teaching

During my first time teaching, I found that managing minutia was challenging, such as:

  • Ensuring you have your university email established
  • Having login credentials for the learning platform (e.g., Blackboard, Moodle, etc.)
  • Knowing who to contact when the projector bulb blows out in your room on your first day

After experiencing difficulties such as those previously mentioned, I developed a cheat sheet with contact information (emails and telephone numbers) of the various university personnel who could help solve these types of issues. More importantly, I made sure I developed relationships with folks from the IT and facilities department to ensure that I had friends who could help when needed.

Navigating classroom interactions as faculty of color

As a Black male I experienced some instances when teaching my first classes where students:

  • Felt comfortable with calling me by my first name (even when witnessing them call White professors by their proper titles)
  • Outwardly expressing their shock to me of having someone who looks “young” teaching the course
  • Challenged me by assuming they had more knowledge of the material than myself as their professor.
  • While some may assume my experience is unique, there is a litany of research that explains the prevalence of these negative encounters for faculty of color. To navigate these experiences, I found it critical to develop a group of trusted colleagues that I could discuss these encounters with and develop strategic responses.
Never start developing a course from scratch (if possible)

Part of the challenge of teaching a course for the first time for me was feeling that I had to develop my class from scratch. However, for accreditation purposes departments should have copies of previous syllabi for all courses taught in your program. Thus, once you find out you are slated to teach a course I would suggest you get a previous syllabus for your course. While perfection may be a concern of yours, when teaching a class for the first time, be ok with mistakes. As the instructor you can learn from those mistakes and make changes for the next time you teach the course.

Talk to your fellow teachers

Along with my insights, some of my colleagues had the following suggestions on preparing for your first class:

  • Send students an email before the semester begins sharing a brief introduction about yourself and ask students to share their professional goals, along with why they are taking the course.
  • Always come to class early to set up lecture visuals such as PowerPoint, Keynote, videos, etc. I try to arrive about 15 minutes before class begins to work out any snafus with technology.
  • Make sure that your syllabus contains office hours and location and policies about special needs, sexual harassment, academic misconduct, and respecting differences.

– Dr. Donna Y. Ford, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor, Vanderbilt University

  • Something that helped me was making sure my syllabus was as detailed as possible (especially in areas of turning in work, late work, makeup work, etc.) and having policies about absences and tardiness if that’s important to you (it was for me).

– Ms. Robin Brandehoff, Doctoral Candidate, University of Colorado Denver

  • On the first day of class, be sure to own your space and declare a) who you are; and b) how you expect to be addressed, i.e. Professor Charfauros (include phonetic spelling as appropriate).

– Professor Antoinette Charfauros McDaniel, Independent Scholar/Founding Faculty Member of the Comparative American Studies Program (now Department) of Oberlin College

For the readers who have experience teaching, what advice would you give someone who is preparing to teach a course for the first time? Feel free to tweet me (@ramongoings) with your tips and suggestions using the #InterfolioTeachingTips to continue the conversation.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. As a writing coach and editor, Dr. Goings enjoys supporting the scholarly development of doctoral students and professors in higher education. For more information about Dr. Goings, please visit his website and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings).