Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Advice for a New Professor

Rather late for someone starting work about seven months ago (woo hoo, only two more months to go!), but IHE has a nice article today titled I'm a Professor. Now What? with advice for the new college teacher fresh out of grad school.

The premise that someone will enter a teaching job without anything more than a PhD is rather a stretch, since most people who fit that description are at an R1 that should emphasize research over teaching during the first year (as described in a recent article by FSP), but the advice is mostly solid.

Relax and be yourself is probably the best one, along with the KISS approach outlined as "black and white". However, that begs the question of the actual objectives of the class. You have to have clear objectives that guide everything from the book you select (if you have that option) to the material you emphasize to the format and coverage of your exams. Temper that with the expectation that they might truly retain (long term) only 10% of what they get right on a test so you choose your battles carefully.

What I dislike is the failure to emphasize the use of a single local mentor on a regular basis, not just when setting up the syllabus. It is not a sign of weakness if you ask for guidance. I've seen the arrogant opposite, and it isn't pretty. It is much more than "don't reinvent the wheel" if you really haven't taught before. I was well prepared by my undergrad department, and got eased in by doing recitations where you see all of the difficulties that require a solution in lecture and problem sessions. I can't imagine where I would be if I was teaching a major class without that preparation and experience.

What seemed missing was to look at your own notes from the class you took as an undergrad - but to tailor it to the institution you are teaching at now. Your own teachers might have had some good ideas about what was important, and you now have the background from grad school to add your own views to that frame.

Finally, I really like the US Army lesson plan format linked at the end of the article, as a warning. Something tells me we will be doing that for all of our classes before SACS et al get done with their emphasis on detailed learning objectives. I just wonder about the value of having over 140 of those pages archived somewhere for a class like mine when the thing that works the best on a given day wasn't even on my own outline of what I planned to do.

Updated April 2009:

There was a really good article about the transition from post-doc to professor from Professor in Training that deserves a link here as well as in one of my older articles. I gather that Prof in Training is wrapping up the first year of research AND teaching. Quite the perspective. Even though that is ancient history to me, I agree that there is a lot you don't know as a post doc, and even as a research professor on someone else's grant. For other links and comments, go to a more detailed article in my blog.

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