Whether you are a graduate student or a postdoc in academia, you may be interested in a career path that includes both teaching and research—a tenure track professor. Yet, it can sometimes be hard to find an opportunity for you to sharpen your teaching skills. Even when offered, you feel hesitant to commit to teach a class because it can really take a significant amount of your research time.
Teaching is a way to share your knowledge to help other people understand and learn more. Although overlooked, teaching is actually a hirable skill to gain before finishing graduate school and during postdoctoral training.
Teaching, as either a lab instructor or a teaching assistant, can be nerve-wracking without prior teaching experience. So, how can you prepare sufficiently ahead of time and make your lectures interesting for your students?
Preparing Your Course
The first thing you need in order to master your teaching skills is to really prepare, so your course will run smoothly. This preparation step may include writing your syllabus, planning and practicing your lectures (Kuther, 2003).
Writing Your Syllabus
You can view your syllabus as a contract between you and your students. It should include your expectations and class policies to avoid future problems.
A common syllabus should cover (Kuther, 2003):
- Your information, office hours, communication
- Course description and topics addressed by your course
- Learning goals and reading materials
- Exams and quizzes, including dates and what materials included for each exam
- Assignments and due dates
- Attendance policy
- Class policies, such as a cell phone policy
- Grading Policies, including points deducted for a late or missing assignment
- Make up policies
- Academic dishonesty
Be Selective about Your Lecture Materials
The most important thing to remember before planning your lecture is most of your students can only focus for about 45 minutes (Kuther, 2003) before their mind wanders away. So, plan your lectures based on the materials they must know, instead of what they should know.
Practice in Moderation
First, you need to practice giving your lectures. For each hour of your lecture time, you want to spend no more than 2 hours to prepare until you feel comfortable lecturing over time (Kuther, 2003). Instead of writing and memorizing what you are going to say in details, practice it with an outline of your major points (Kuther, 2003).
How to Make Connection during Your Lectures
Throughout the lecture, you have to get and keep the attention of your students. In order to do that, they have to feel a connection to your lecture.
Therefore, when preparing for a lecture, ask yourself these questions (Wright, 2001):
- Why should my students care about what I am going to teach them?
- What difference will this information make in their lives?
Below are some tips on how you can build this connection:
Make a Connection with Your Students
Remember your students' names (Wright, 2001). Actually, put this task as one of the priority goals that you have to accomplish during first few weeks of your class. This is one effective way to build a two–way interaction with your students, so they care more about your class. Sometimes, this type of interaction helps improve their attendance.
Incorporate Good Stories into Your Lectures
Telling a story before you start your lecture may help you break the ice (Wright, 2001). It will help you to beat your nervousness and get your students to connect more with the lecture material. For example, you can tell a story from the news about the daily struggle of a little girl who has a particular rare genetic disorder, before starting a lecture about ‘The Chromosomal Basis of Inheritance’ in your genetics class.This story will help your students to put a face on the lecture topic and connect the most up-to-date problem to your lecture.
Help Students Apply New Knowledge
One way to help your students apply new knowledge is by using a story from trending search topics in media related to your lecture material (Wright, 2001). For example, you can use it as a group discussion topic for your students and conclude with your valuable scientific point of view about the topic. Otherwise, you can start a group discussion about the best way to defeat an ongoing disease after a lecture about viruses and end the discussion with a past successful story of virus control.
Show Your Enthusiasm
Once in a while, share with them a story about why you chose a science career or how awesome your field of study or your research is (Wright, 2001). Your excitement about science can be contagious and it may inspire your students.
Evaluating Your Teaching Experience
Finally, remember that there is always room for improvement. To organize a better course structure or class policies for your class, ask other instructors for their syllabi and compare those with what you have (Kuther, 2003). In addition, toward the end of your class, you may receive evaluations about your class from your students. Use both of these to collect ideas about how you can build a better class and improve your teaching skills.
How to Find Some Teaching Opportunities
Most early academic scientists, such as graduate students and postdocs, never get a formal offer from their institution to teach a class. Therefore, in order to create your way, search for an opportunity to teach.
Below are some ways to find some teaching opportunities:
- Contact an office of education at your institution to search for seminars or workshops related to teaching.
- Find a visiting or adjunct professorship in a small public university or a community college.
- Apply for teaching postdoctoral fellowship programs.
- Find teacher-training programs.
- Connect with local school principals and teachers and offer to teach a 10-15 minute lesson in collaboration with the teacher. You may ask for feedback from the teacher on how to improve your teaching.
Teaching may seem intimidating at first, but you will receive your reward toward the end. Nothing compares to the satisfaction you will feel when you realize that your work nurtures and inspires the mind of future scientists.
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