Preparing and planning a new course can be overwhelming, stressful, and sometimes even intimidating. This is true for veteran instructors, but even more so for new or first-year instructors (part-time and full-time faculty).
I’ve been there, and I know how it feels. So here, I’d like to provide you with a few tips that I’ve picked up along the way that have helped me tremendously when starting a new course. I hope you find them helpful!
Tip #1 Start small.
The first tip is more abstract, but ever important. Starting a new class can be exciting, dreaming up the lessons, discussions, and projects you’re going to do with your students. However, it can also be overwhelming.
My biggest piece of advice is to start small. Identify a unit or area of instruction or assessment where you’re going to direct your focus and attention. Then identify actionable steps for what you are going to do to make it excellent.
For example, maybe you’re going to focus on creating an environment that inspires collaboration and classroom engagement through discussion. Identify what you can do in that area to improve, and then put your focus there. You may have other areas that need attention, and you’ll get to them, but start small at first.
As teachers, we want to do everything well and give our students the best we can, but we also need to be realistic and direct our energy where we can do the most good. We can either do all of the things satisfactorily, or we can do a few things, but do them really well. I think you’ll agree that the latter is the more favorable option.
Tip #2 Create a detailed syllabus.
So what can we do to make sure we start the semester off strong? Create a detailed syllabus.
The syllabus is the road map of your class. It outlines everything from your objectives to your assessments. Students use this as a guide to navigate your class from the first day to the last.
It’s important that your syllabus is thorough and detailed, but also organized well so it is user friendly. You essentially want to use the syllabus as a one-stop-shop for everything. This way you can set the expectation that students refer to the syllabus before asking you a question. (This will significantly decrease the number of questions you field.)
If you’re a new part-time or adjunct instructor, it’s likely your department will provide you with a syllabus for the course, or guide you in what you should include in it. This will largely depend on your university and department.
Nevertheless, your syllabus should include:
Course objectives- What will students know and be able to do as a result of taking this class? (Likely, your university will provide these for you.)
Standards– To what standards are you teaching? This is generally provided by the state or national education organization. (Again, your university will likely have a set of standards for you to use.)
Topics/Units– What topics will your class cover? (Organize your topics into smaller units.)
Outcomes- How will you know whether students have met your objectives?
Formative Instruction and Assessments– What instruction is needed to help students meet the objectives and be successful on the assessments?
Policies and Routines– What policies and routines will you establish to make your semester run smoothly? (See Tip #3 for an expanded explanation of this.)
Note: While you want your syllabus to be as detailed as possible, you also want to stipulate that the assignments and dates are subject to change, which grants you some flexibility to respond to your students and adjust your plans.
Tip #3 Have clear policies and establish a routine.
Having clearly laid out policies and establishing a routine will not only help you stay organized and consistent, but also help students be successful in your class. Questions you should consider addressing in your syllabus:
Will you have an introductory activity each time your class meets?
How will you collect assignments?
When will assignments be due?
What is your late work policy?
What is the percentage breakdown of assignments?
What is your attendance policy?
What are classroom expectations regarding food, beverage, cell phones, etc.?
When are your office hours?
How will you respond to student questions? (Through email, in person, etc.)
Teaching a new class, or even new-to-you class can certainly be overwhelming and stressful, and I hope to have given you a few nuggets of advice you can take away. Remember, whether you’re a veteran or a newbie, these tips will help!
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