Whether or not you are new to teaching in a higher education setting or an experienced university educator, beginning teaching in a new university setting presents unique challenges. This article contains tips on how to learn more about the UNT course you are teaching, setting expectations for TAs, and getting organized to teach. For our first day of class checklist, click here.
Learning About the Course
A key part of preparing to teach is learning about the course and students who will potentially enroll in that course. For example, you will need to know about the overall course mandates; i.e. if the course is required or an elective, prerequisites the students will have completed, and standards for a profession or accreditation to be addressed by the course.
You will also need to know about students who typically enroll in this course: their typical characteristics, their prior learning experiences, and challenges they usually experience in this course. Anticipated course size will also affect your planning as will the prior rates of drop, withdrawal, and failure (DFW) of students taking the course. If you have a chance, observe the course in action prior to your teaching.
Look at the room assigned to the course. What is the seating arrangement? Will it accommodate collaborative learning? Do you know how to use the technology and where to get assistance if something doesn’t work? And last, think about the expectations of the department, future employers, and especially the students for the course.
You can obtain information from faculty who have previously taught the course or others in the department. Veteran instructors (including TFs and adjunct instructors) who have taught the course can share what to expect with their less experienced colleagues. If no one is available, a meeting with the department chair can provide guidance.
Some departments have a list of learning outcomes for a course, or a text that all instructors are expected to use. Instructors should ask about such expectations as early as possible. Most faculty are happy to share their syllabi and will not mind letting new instructors copy useful passages (although the instructor should ask permission before doing so).
If this is a new course or a course you may be redesigning, take a look at the Teaching Commons Teaching Essential: Course Design and Online Course Design for guidance on how to begin the course design process.
Setting Expectations for TAs
An instructor of record may need to oversee one or more teaching assistants. While TAs can be a tremendous help to instructors, the instructor must think about how best to utilize them. The instructor of record must identify tasks that will need to be done both in and out of class (e.g., taking attendance, setting up audiovisual equipment, proctoring exams, grading homework assignments, monitoring online discussion boards). The instructor should consider how to best to divide up those tasks. Which tasks should the instructor handle and which can be delegated to a TA? Should one task (such as monitoring a discussion board) fall to a single person, or can it be shared between two people? If dividing work among multiple TAs, what is a fair distribution? Will the TAs be allowed to decide among themselves how to split jobs, or will the instructor do it for them?
It is important to communicate expectations to TAs as soon and clearly as possible (ideally in writing). TAs should be given feedback throughout the semester to let them know if they are meeting expectations and how they can improve.
To learn more about the classification of teaching personnel at UNT, click here.
Organizing to Teach
As with most things, successful teaching requires organization. Each instructor should think in advance about what they will need to ensure effective teaching. Questions to consider:
- Is it necessary to take attendance? If so, what is the most efficient manner?
- Are audiovisual materials needed? If so, how can the material be set up quickly?
- Will students work in groups or individually? Will they need specific materials to engage in said work? Will special seating arrangements be necessary?
- What preparation is necessary for students to accomplish the learning outcomes in class? What are the most important information and concepts for students to understand to experience effective learning in the class?
- How will students engage with course concepts? Are there special activities for the class?
- How can I organize student-related files?
- How can I best distribute materials to students and receive materials back from them?
- How will students assess their learning in this class? How will you assess their learning?
Preparing for record-keeping
One of the most astonishing things for new instructors is the sheer amount of “stuff” generated by a classroom of students. Instructors can save many headaches by setting up an organizational system before the semester even begins (keeping in mind, however, that it needs to be flexible to account for unexpected changes and challenges).
To read more about the UNT student records retention policy, click here.
Some suggestions: Set up folders in your e-mail client that will allow you to keep student correspondence in one place. If you are teaching multiple classes, you could have a folder for each class. You may want sub-folders for items such as make-up exam requests, draft papers, content questions, etc.
Prepare physical file folders for specific administrative documents: ODA requests, athletic schedules (which document excused absences), attendance sheets (if you’re keeping them), and copies of exams/handouts/assignments. Prepare separate folders for completed exams/answer sheets, assignments, and papers. Maintain a separate set of folders for letters of recommendation (and the supporting documentation) as well as memos and forms related to academic dishonesty cases.
Even if you plan to return papers and assignments to students, some students will not pick them up in a timely manner. It will be better to have those materials neatly organized and easy to find if the students decide to collect their materials.