Top Ten Tips: Teaching For The Very First Time As A Postgraduate

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Postgraduates are increasingly being asked to undertake some form of teaching during their studies, whether as part of their funding or as an extra paid opportunity. Gaining teaching experience during a PhD can be a highly rewarding experience, but there are also potential pitfalls to teaching at this very early stage of an academic career. This article aims to offer ten tips for tackling the very first time that you teach as a postgraduate and provides some suggestions for how to overcome some of the more common obstacles you might encounter.

  1. Take on some advice. Talking to colleagues, whether experienced academics or fellow postgraduates, can help you to gain a feel for the student population and will help to understand the relevant departmental procedures for teaching.
  2. Do some research on your students. Ask departmental administrators whether there is any information that you need to know about the students you will teach, in particular with regards to special educational needs such as dyslexia.
  3. Do some research on your material. Teaching is as much about the preparation as the delivery, so plan the first session carefully. It is important to locate the session in a wider context. How does it fit into the rest of the module? How will students be assessed on this material? What are the key points that you feel you should cover during the course of the session?
  4. Plan for lots of interaction. Small group discussion helps to keep students engaged and is one way of dealing with the issue of silence that might occur when you ask the whole group a question. By allocating particular questions or topics to different small groups, students are encouraged to interact with one another and share their perspectives on a topic.
  5. Expect time to be limited. One of the major difficulties when teaching for the first time is planning the right amount of work for the time available. Run through your plan with a friend or colleague first and try build in time at the end for a plenary to allow students to recap on the information covered.
  6. Visit the teaching room in advance of the session. This might necessitate visiting in the early morning or late in the afternoon. Think carefully about how you would like the room to be laid out. For humanities and social science seminars, a ‘round table’ approach works very well as it enables all members of the class to see one another.
  7. Arrive early to your teaching session. Arriving late puts you under pressure before you have even begun to teach. Get there in plenty of time, set the room out as you have planned and wait for the students to arrive; leaving the door open helps to make students feel welcome.
  8. Plan your introductions. When introducing yourself, you might want to tell students a little bit about your research, but also about your background. Ask the students to introduce themselves with an interesting fact; this helps to remember all-important names.
  9. Set out your expectations from the very start. Postgraduate teachers are often bemused as to why students don’t do their work. This is often simply because they don’t realise that this is what expected of them. Be clear on the level of preparation and the in-class contributions you expect.
  10. Don’t hide your personality. Taking an interest in your subject and in your students will help you to thrive as a postgraduate teacher.

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