If you’re feeling more nervous than excited about having landed your first job as a lecturer, take heart: almost every new lecturer feels exactly the same. University orientation programs for fresh hires usually only cover the basics, such as where you will work, what the admin staff will and will not do, and how to enrol in your pension plan. But there’s plenty that you can do to get off to a flying start.
Draw on experience
If your predecessor was promoted rather than leaving, he or she is your best resource. Otherwise, find out who your line manager is and ask for a formal mentoring arrangement with a senior (but not too senior) lecturer in your department. The areas you need to cover before you set foot in a classroom are laid out in the following sections. It’s too much to cover in an hour, so set up a series of appointments.
They’re the reason you are here, so you need to know about the typical profile of students on your course before you start planning your lessons. Will you be teaching 18- to 21-year-olds, mature adults, or a mix? Do they tend to already have some work experience before beginning your course? Do most live on campus, or do they commute? Are there issues with getting them to read academic books and journals? What backgrounds do they usually come from? If you teach in a lab environment or with other specialist equipment, will they be absolute beginners?
This information can help you choose sources and examples wisely. For some students, you may need to provide step-by-step instructions, either in person or as handouts. Avoid taking on elitist (or defeatist) attitudes about students—if you go out of your way to accept, connect with and support them, most will strive to do their best.
Your module and the course
Make sure you understand how the modules you will teach fit in with the overall course before you plan sessions. If your module is in Year 1 or a prerequisite for others, students must master specific skills to succeed on the programme. Focus on these skills in your lesson plans. It often helps to teach the same skill in two different ways.
Don’t neglect transferable, generic skills, such as writing and presenting. Consult experienced colleagues or books about how to structure assignments. For example, shy students dread presentations, and others ‘game’ them, doing little in advance but looking great on the day. Assigning sub-topics or research roles can get the best out of both types.
Make sure you attend faculty meetings before the start of term and ask about current goals and issues that you could address through teaching.
Get to grips with administration
Admin roles are typically defined and hierarchical. Get off to a good start by asking your line manager to tell you who you can approach for help with things like copying, library needs, the Virtual Learning Environment if there is one, supporting students with disabilities, discipline issues, marking, and student recruitment. You may be expected to handle some or all of these areas yourself, but you’ll need help to understand the university’s systems so if formal training is available, take it.
Don’t forget research!
In your first year as a lecturer, teaching feels like your greatest worry. However, if your role includes research, it’s crucial to start strong. Join appropriate research networks inside and outside the university, and look for a research mentor. Get to know the university’s research support team, and ask them about good ideas for early career researchers. Put space in your timetable for research every week, and ringfence it—otherwise, it tends to get crowded out by teaching and admin. Use this time to make notes on topics you are interested in, to keep up to date with key journals, and to write your first grant applications.
As a new lecturer, you’ve been handed a fantastic opportunity for personal growth, and a chance to help along the next generation of scholars in your field. Although the responsibilities can be intimidating, think of the best lecturers you had as a student, and try to emulate their approach whenever possible. With a role model and good planning, you’ll be off to a great start.