Planning a course for a brand new faculty can be an overwhelming experience. It can be especially overwhelming if this is your first time going through the process. And even more so if you have not had the opportunity to participate in a TA program and be mentored by seasoned faculty. But, there’s no reason to fret. This article will cover a few simple things you can do to help you plan your first course without stressing and getting overwhelmed.
1. Ask For Help
The easiest way to prepare for a course is to start by asking for help. If you’re teaching a course for the first time, find out who else currently teaches or may have taught that course in the past. Find out if they’re willing to share their syllabus and any teaching material with you. A lot of faculty are flattered to be asked. Remember that you do not have to be alone in your academic adventure and that many others have already been in your shoes; there’s no point in re-inventing the wheel. Ask for advice, help, materials, classroom activities and anything else that they are willing to share with you.
Once you have all of that material, go through it and see if there is anything that you feel needs to be modified or eliminated. Don’t assume that just because that material works or worked for another professor that it will work for you as well. Review the Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) for the course you are teaching, and ask yourself if the material you have will help you meet these SLOs. If not, you’ll need to develop some activities to address the SLOs. (More on that in my future SLO article).
2. Use The Instructor Resources
Let’s assume there’s a textbook assigned to the course you are teaching; be sure to contact the publisher to get a copy of the accompanying instructor resources textbook/package. Most publishers will provide you with some resources that may include:
- PowerPoint presentations
- Test banks
- Online course websites
- Classroom activities
Use the content to help you simplify your duties and achieve the desired SLOs. Like the content that you may borrow from your colleagues, I would suggest customizing the content you get from the publishers. Remember that there isn’t a one size fits all solution, and what the publisher provides you may not be exactly what you need, but it will help make your life easier. If you’re not sure how to go about this, I’m including (below) a list of some of the largest academic publishers. Visit their websites. Find out who the rep is for your school and contact them. Ask them for a Desk Copy (free instructor textbook) and any instructor material available. Most publishers today will allow you to create an account with them online, which will give you access to most of the instructor materials.
3. Plan Out Every Single Week
Time management and staying on track can be a challenge for new faculty. My advice is to include a week-by-week schedule in your syllabus that defines the topics that you plan on covering for each week and includes the activities that you plan on assigning. Most faculty already do this, but some don’t, and it’s a mistake. If you plan out your semester in advance, it becomes much easier to focus on what you need to be developing or working on each week. If your school maintains a database or archive for official curricula or course outline of records, use that to help you plan your weekly schedule. The official course outline of record for a course will provide you with most of the necessary details to develop your course and syllabus. It will typically include the official:
- Course Description
- Measurable Objectives
- Topical Outline
- Method of Evaluation
- Sample Assignments
- Suggested Textbook
- and perhaps a few other details
Here are a few schools that provide public access to their official course outline of records:
- Mt. San Antonio College: http://webcms.mtsac.edu/webcms/search.asp
- Pasadena City College: http://webcms.pasadena.edu/search.asp
- Glendale Community College: http://www.glendale.edu/index.aspx?page=5214
- Radford University: http://www.radford.edu/content/registrar/home/course-descriptions.html
- Foothill College: http://www.foothill.edu/schedule/outlines.php
Try to stick with your weekly schedule as much as possible; don’t make the mistake of thinking that you need to spend some more time on a particular topic for more than 2 weeks. Doing so will slow you down and will force you to rush the through remaining content in order to get back on track or make sure that you cover every topic that is listed.
I made that mistake the first semester I taught!
I spent 4 weeks on one chapter because I felt that the material was so important that it was OK to keep extending the topic week after week. I soon realized that I couldn’t do that with the remaining seventeen topics I was expected to cover within the remaining 12 weeks. Which brings me to my next topic, brevity!
As a young and overzealous professor, I couldn’t wait to impart my knowledge and expertise upon my students. I didn’t just want to do a good job, I wanted to do an exceptional job and teach them everything I knew. Little did I know that my job wasn’t about teaching them “everything” I know, but the things that they needed to know. No more, no less!
You have to realize that your job is to teach your students what they need to know for the particular course they are enrolled not teach them everything you know about the topic. Once I realized that, I stopped spending 4 weeks on just one chapter and found myself a lot more focused on the learning objectives of each topic.
To keep it simple, ask yourself the following questions when developing your lessons:
- What do my students need to learn (Learning Objectives)?
- How will I deliver that content in a way that the students will be able to understand and retain it (Pedagogy)?
- How will I assess what the students learned (Learning Assessment)?
One more thing, just because something is in a textbook doesn’t mean you need to cover it. Some textbooks contain material beyond what your course outline of record and SLO demand, so learn to be selective when using the book. Utilize the material that you need from the book not everything that is published in it. Remember that the author of a textbook does not decide what you should be teaching in class, you do!
5. Start Early
Begin working on your courses as soon as you find out what you are going to teach. Trust me. It works!
Do not procrastinate or wait until your semester or quarter officially begins.
I was assigned 8 different courses to teach during my first year as a professor. Insane? You bet! I continue to teach 8-9 different courses each year a decade later.
How do I manage such a load? I started working on the courses that I needed to teach as early as I could. In fact, I did this about three months before I taught my first class. I had the advantage of finding out my teaching assignment the summer before fall semester, which helped. Was that enough time to prep for 4 different courses? Not at all. But, it gave me enough of a head start over my students.
Teaching and planning your courses gets easier with time and experience, so don’t let the first couple of years of teaching discourage you. You’ll put in a lot of hours in the beginning, but you’ll eventually get to a place where you won’t have to do as much prepping, and teaching will become second nature to you. You’ll probably have to modify some of your lessons, and you will have to try different strategies. So, don’t be afraid of trying new things and learn to adapt very quickly to any circumstance you may face.
So, to recap, the five things that you can do to help you prepare for your first teaching assignment are:
- Ask for help
- Use the instructor resources
- Plan out every single week
- Start early
Have fun teaching and if you found this post useful, I’d be grateful if you’d help spread the word by sharing this with a friend or colleagues on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, or Facebook.
- Wiley: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/Section/id-301905.html
- Cengage: https://login.cengage.com/cb/login.htm
- Pearson: http://www.pearsonhighered.com/educator/index.page
- McGraw-Hill: http://catalogs.mhhe.com/mhhe/findRep.do
- Macmillan: http://www.macmillanhighered.com