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Delivering Excellent Course Content from the Outset

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Based on my years of experience in the classroom, here is a very brief guide to teaching your first college course. The advice is organized around the themes of firstday issues, preparation, and balancing teaching and research.


The posting below gives some good advice on teaching your first course . It is by Kevin Bennett and is from the National Teaching and Learning Forum, Volume 27, Number 3, March 25, 2018It is from a series of selected excerpts from the NT&LF reproduced here as part of our "Shared Mission Partnership." NT&LF has a wealth of information on all aspects of teaching and learning. If you are not already a subscriber, you can check it out at [ ] The on-line edition of the Forum - like the printed version - offers subscribers insight from colleagues eager to share new ways of helping students reach the highest levels of learning. ©2018 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Published by Wiley Subscription Services Inc., a Wiley Company.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow’s Teaching and Learning

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Delivering Excellent Course Content from the Outset:

Guiding Graduate Students and Young College Faculty through the Process of First‐Time Teaching


So far, you have done a job. After several years of graduate school, your department has given you an opportunity to teach your very own college‐level course! Dig, if you will, this picture: your imagination in overdrive, you see yourself performing captivating oratories on every subject within your academic discipline. No one doubts the almost magical synergy between you and your eager students. They hang on your every word, applaud your insightful and witty comments, and commend you on exam day for a superbly crafted test that challenged their mastery of the material. Perhaps you even remind yourself of the scene from Dead Poets Society where students climb on desks to address “O Captain! My Captain!” Soon this will be you.


Now come back to reality. Teaching a college‐level class is no easy task. It requires a great deal of work and preparation just to organize a decent course, let alone make one that will have a lasting impression on students. Are you up to the challenge? Based on my years of experience in the classroom, here is a very brief guide to teaching your first college course. The advice is organized around the themes of first‐day issues, preparation, and balancing teaching and research.

The First Day

Maybe you are the type of individual who receives an offer to teach and begins preparing months ahead of time. If you are not this person, try to be. You will experience a noticeable increase in anxiety as the course changes from being weeks away to being days away. Assuming you have dealt with all the administrative issues, such as picking out a textbook and organizing a syllabus, your first challenge will be getting through the first day. There is no substitute for being organized and confident for that occasion. Being prepared means having a well‐detailed, understandable syllabus and a plan of action. Your first moments are important for setting the tone for the rest of the course.

You might not get through much material other than some introductions and a review of the syllabus. That is OK. There are two things I try to accomplish more than anything else on the first day: (1) impress upon the class how much I want to be there because I enjoy teaching and (2) demonstrate how dazzling the class will be for them. One thing I like to do is provide a glimpse into the future by selecting a few examples of the most intriguing topics and briefly exploring them. If you are successful, both you and your students will walk away from the first day feeling very positive about the course and excited for the rest of the semester.


We have all experienced good and bad teaching. Set your sights on being a good teacher while you are still early in your career. The best piece of advice I can give is do not leave class preparation until the night before. As a graduate student, this might seem impossible, but make it a goal. The confidence and energy that comes with being prepared will lead to positive outcomes in the future.

Depending on class size, course content, and available technology, you will have to make choices about which strategies best fit your personality. Will you rely heavily on PowerPoint presentations? Or will you express a general bias toward minimalism? I suggest starting out simply, concentrating more on what you will be saying instead of spending time developing elaborate media presentations. In addition to impinging on your preparation time, you might find yourself depending too much on visual displays in class. An environment in which material is simply being read to the class often creates depressed, unfocused students.

Do not be afraid to borrow instructional styles from effective teachers from your past. A professor once told me your teaching style does not have to be completely invented by you. It is the combination of all the positive relationships with teachers you have had in the past. Think about these people and draw from them. Be sure to consult with others in your department who have taught the course in the past. They will prove an invaluable source for syllabus help, exam construction, and classroom activities.

Balancing Teaching and Research

Do not quit your day job! You are in graduate school to learn and do many things. Teaching might be one. At the same time, you are expected to be a productive researcher. All humans, including graduate students, face decisions about how to focus valuable time and energy. If you are fortunate enough to get the opportunity to teach a course in graduate school, you will wrestle with the trade‐off between teaching and research.

Do not focus all your time on teaching. It is easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm of developing courses and finding new ways to engage students. If your teaching and research interests overlap, think about possibly combining the two. Students like to hear about the latest research, especially work that is coming from their own school. This way, your time spent doing good research can be parlayed into effective learning and discussion in the classroom.


If you have never taught before, how do you know you will love it and the class will too? Well, you do not know. But you are about to find out. If you are like me, you will want your initial attempt at teaching to be great and will not be happy if your students think the class is anything less than stellar. This is the only time in your life when you will be a “first‐time teacher.” Remember, nobody expects you to have a problem‐free semester, so do not expect this yourself. If things fail to go well the first time around, rest assured that they will only improve. The best way to have an effective and enjoyable semester is to plan ahead as much as possible. Students will get more out of the course and you will have less stress. Before you know it, your class will be thanking you for a great semester.