Many PhDs are minted without having taught a college class. While they may be proficient in their fields, the ability to convey that knowledge meaningful is another skill altogether. Of course there’s the prospect of just reproducing the things you found helpful from your profs while you were a student or just ‘borrowing’ a syllabus and reproducing it only with your own subject in it. These may be lifelines for the desperate but they hardly make for very effective teaching. So where and how do you start when you want to teach a class? While teaching and learning styles may differ from student to student and from teacher to teacher, there are things which always make for effective teaching.
1. Plan your class starting with the objectives. this advice is similar to Covey’s ‘Begin with the mind’ as a key of effectiveness. The effective teacher recognizes that teaching is not just another activity but a life changing endeavor which should aim to accomplish some objective. So some teachers prefer to begin with components of the course but at some point you need to outline the goals of the class and tie in each component with stated objectives for the class. Smart objectives include the performance, condition and criterion.
The time line for this (for a semester long class is at least 3 months in advance of starting the class) A good resource for writing (and checking) objectives is Robert Mager’s Preparing instructional objectives.
2. Choose your texts: this involves some legwork – the first good sounding (or looking) book is probably not the best choice. Review several books and check how each of them treats several components of the class. You may need to use a combination of books and sections. For the current generation of digital natives who comprise undergraduate students, electronic options are usually good (think e-books, articles on e-reserves. Always the guiding question is what best helps attain the objectives of the class. In setting the reading, consider that those students have other classes for which they also have reading.
3. Create the syllabus. This is the road map for the student as well as the teacher. It contains the whys (goals and objectives), what’s (course components and topics, assignments, projects, texts etc.) and the whens (schedules and due dates for readings, projects and assignments). 2 tips for the syllabus: a)clarity and detail; and b)creativity. The underlying question is always; How will this syllabus help my students accomplish the objectives of the class?
4. Plan the class sessions. You don’t have to plan all the sessions ahead of time but planning several at a time helps flow and flexibility. It is also at this stage you address concerns such as the use of technology, student engagement and other factors dependent on the nature of the subject or class size.