Dscf0520_2Are you about to become a teacher? Perhaps you will be an adjunct lecturer at your local college. How wonderful. Teaching is a joy and a great opportunity for you to learn.

I’ve taught for 15+ years at a variety of schools, colleges and universities. Here’s what has worked for me:

1. I take notes during class — pausing, if I must, during whatever is going on. While the students in front of me are the first priority, I must continually improve the class for future years. So I tell the current students that this is our goal: to improve the class for the next class. I poll students (using SurveyMonkey) on what works and what doesn’t. I write down every constructive method or comment for future use, so that I don’t come back after vacation wishing I had taken better notes.

2. I give one class participation grade to the students; that means, everyone gets the same class participation grade. This way, the talkers speak up, the quiet ones support the talkers, and the class works at the highest level — with no eye-rolling.

3. Whenever I’m asked a question, I ask the students to answer it — especially if I don’t know the answer! I don’t worry about BEING THE TEACHER, the infallible font of knowledge. I position myself as one of the learners. It’s humbler and less likely to put me at odds with the students who work to prove the teacher wrong.

4. I remember that the students are not just studying the text. They are also studying me. In a world with too few heroes, they are looking for role models. They are wondering, “Does he really care about this subject? Is he teaching for money or love? Should I should care, too?”

5. I never talk down to students, no matter what their age. Nobody likes to be patronized. I speak to students as if they are my companions on a journey of learning.

6. I don’t worry too much if we don’t stick closely to the lesson plan. If I were teaching a “life safety” course (such as nursing), that would be important. But I teach ethics, creativity, and marketing. It’s usually more effective to follow the students’ interests (as long as they are on subject) than my lesson plan.

From the moment you say hello, your students are trying to determine whether they will work hard for you, for your subject. They will work hard only if they are (a) fearful of failing or (b) because they are inspired. I focus on the inspiration, because life is too short for fear.

Parker J. Palmer’s The Courage To Teach is very enjoyable and helpful for first-time teachers.