Reflections from a first semester college instructor:
Allow students to help set the tone for the semester. It’s fair to say that every educator should have goals and standards established for their class regardless of grade, level, or subject matter. I also think that college level instructors should allow the students to set the tone for the classroom. College students need to know that the classes are not done to them, but are created for them. This kind of attitude and language allows students to see that if they set the tone for the class, they are fully owning their learning process.
Be flexible, but not too flexible. In all honesty, it has not been that long since I was on the other side of the desk as a student. I remember days when I needed more time or needed a couple of hours to hash something out before I could click submit or print something out. It is important to offer some “wiggle room” (a completely technical term). On the other side of the coin, it is important to establish reasonable deadlines.
Give feedback in an honest, critical way. Teaching a composition class is difficult because so much of the course is rooted in feedback. This semester, I realized that one of my favorite ways to have feedback is by conferencing. I required my students to have 1 in class conference with me. It gave me the opportunity to talk to students and see how they were doing without assuming all was well. Sometimes, all it takes is asking “Do you have any questions or how can I help?”
Don’t take disappointment too close to heart. I have to work on not allowing small things to make me feel like I’ve done something incredibly wrong. It hurts me when a student doesn’t turn in an essay or if I feel like there no effort is being made. However, I urge educators (at all levels) to keep in mind that you offer an outlet and then students have to receive and engage or some students may disengage for personal or unforeseen circumstances. Either way, I suggest not allowing disappointment to get too personal.
Grades are important, but remind students that they do not define success. I believe that grades are far from the point of educating. We use grades to help measure success, but in my eyes, and for many educators, grades are not how success is defined. In the subjective field of literature and composition: there are so many gray areas. Grading often gets tough because of the lack of exact right v exact wrong.
Create a learning space that invites questions and embraces curiosity: I completely understand what it’s like to be in a class and feel like raising your hand may lead to disaster. It never does, though! I make it my goal to create a space where students feel completely comfortable asking questions. In the classroom, I have not successfully done my job if a student feels anxious or is fearful to ask a question.
Respond quickly to emails. There is nothing like leaving someone hanging after they have sent you an email. Why preach using the communication medium and then not respond for day? Even if it’s just a quick, “I will get back to you as soon as possible”. This semester I made it a priority to always sign my emails with “Sincerely”. I want students to know that I value them as professional scholars and remind them of the level of academia they have entered.
Apologizing for confusion, etc..: Somewhere along the line, people started to forget that every human being walking on this earth is a human being completely capable of making mistakes. I find that it’s critical to apologize when you get something wrong. It helps students understand that you’re in this together versus the mentality of “I’m always right” and here’s why…