As the evenings begin to draw in and I desire more knitwear with increasing fevour, there is no escaping the fact that semesters are beginning all over. The last two years I was in a Study Abroad institution pegged to US scheduling and returned at the end of August, but this time I’m beginning teaching in late September, which is allowing me good time for a spot of prep and tying up loose summer research ends. Most of my friends and colleagues are filling in Virtual Learning Environments, making up course booklets and involved in planning Welcome Weeks and other orientation events for students. I’m really excited about my new teaching schedule: I’ve just started a new job and I’ve been able to get a new course on the books as well as put my own spin on some core favourites.
I wanted to write, this, though, for anyone starting a new job or who is new to teaching. You might be a little nervous about what lies ahead and that is not only understandable but, quite frankly, appropriate. Caring about your students and what they get out of their classes always trumps bland indifference and over-confidence: the trick to get right is to be vigilant about what you do in the classroom without letting the jitters get the better of you. Preparing to adapt your methods and content (where possible) and take criticism is one of the most important skills you will ever learn as an academic and this is the time to learn some good habits. Seek out the support that is available from your department, whether that is peer reviewing of lectures or techniques for managing group discussions. Some of this can be a bit out there, and not applicable to your discipline, but being critical about your teaching practice and thoughtful about what you’re getting out of the classroom will stand you in good stead to be an excellent teacher.
In general, I have seen mixed results from the incorporation of social media in the classroom. I am interested to see how some of my Twitter folk incorporate it into their teaching this semester, and will report back. I’d encourage anyone new to the classroom to keep an eye on these debates rather than going full-on with them: issues such as the digital divide, students who are understandably sceptical of social media corporations and those who like to keep their private and educational lives separate are all things to think about. We have a lively departmental Facebook and Twitter, and I’ve run groups for modules before, but often students think these sites are for entertainment and socialising rather than academic endeavours, though I will be keeping up-to-date with how people get on.
What I would like to urge you to do, and I know we all have difficult workloads, is to look out for your new students as they arrive this semester. Many students are coming back to education, especially in this economic climate, and many have struggled through difficult situations to attend your institution. Some of them may have serious financial difficulties when it comes to buying books (so don’t tear a strip off anyone for reading a free book on their E-Reader) and may well not be used to the sort of interaction that happens in a University, whether with their tutors or with other students. I am constantly thankful for the things that we can do in the classroom and the books that we can place in students’ hands. So, don’t forget to think of yourself at 18, maybe a little gauche, maybe struggling with responsibilities at home, maybe champing at the bit to get out of your small town and talk ideas with people who were like you.
(This is my first blog for this site: if there’s anything you’d like me to write on, whether it’s research, teaching, Early Career survival or contemporary literature, do let me know via email or on twitter @drmagennis.)