A look inside my “Summer Off”

IMG_3469I love when people say to me “it must be nice to be a teacher and have your summers off”.  I don’t know about you, but time off is something that is scarce in my life. While my summer schedule definitely looks different than the schedule I follow during the academic calendar year, I would not classify it as time off. I have different tasks to complete in the summers that help to make my job a bit easier and smoother when school resumes in the fall. Preparation, during the summer, helps to make me feel relaxed at the beginning of the semester when I am not only preparing myself for the beginning of the semester but also getting my kids in ‘back to school’ mode and helping them get use to a new routine.

Write and Revise Curriculum

In the summer, there are a lot of things that I do to prepare for the upcoming school year. I update my lectures and powerpoints and find new resources such as articles, videos, and activities to incorporate into my classes. In the summer, I have more time to review resources such as textbook and research articles to incorporate into the classes I teach. I have reviewed several resources such as new textbooks and was even able to work with a publisher on a custom textbook for a course I teach.  I also explore the university library for recently published research articles that could be incorporated into classes. This allows me to stay abreast of the new developments in my field of study.

New Technologies

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I can also experiment and consider using different technologies in classes. This summer, I have been researching Loom. This is a free program that allows you to create short videos to provide feedback and comments (rather than typing them out). This seems to be a less time consuming and a bit more personal way to provide feedback. I am considering this for providing feedback to students on written assignments as well as for collaborating with colleagues on research projects.

If any readers have used this program, please feel free to share your experience below. Your feedback is appreciated!

Research and Presentations

The summer provides a great opportunity to work on research projects. I find it hard to write during the fall and spring semesters due to other responsibilities that often take precedence. Finding some time to research and write up findings is easier for me in the summer months. A colleague and I have been editing and revising an article we wrote, so that it can be submitted for publication.

I have also been working with two colleagues to prepare a study that can be conducted in the upcoming academic school year. We will be submitting our proposal through IRB and will collect data during the academic year in hopes of having the data available next summer so we can spend sometime analyzing it and writing up the findings.

I have also been preparing a conference presentation with a colleague. We will be presenting at a conference in October and have been taking advantage of the down time that we have in the summer to discuss and prepare our presentation.

Teaching Online

In addition, I have been teaching online classes this summer. I do this for several reasons. It also allows me the opportunity to teach graduate level classes. It provides the opportunity to teach classes that I would normally not teach during the regular semester and give some additional time to prep material for these classes. I enjoy teaching graduate level students. It is a nice and sometimes needed change. IMG_5519

It is also a nice way to supplement my income. This allows me to pay for vacations for my family. It also allows for some extra income to pay bills, student loans, and to make needed home improvements.

Online teaching can be time consuming; however, I can arrange my days and weeks to fit my summer schedule completing work early in the mornings or in different settings (like in my car while driving to CA for my family vacation – thank goodness for Hot Spot!).

Flexible Office Space and Hours

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 10.08.16 AMMy office space looks a little bit different in the summer. It is mobile. I may take my laptop to the pool and work while my kids participate in swim practice. I may wake up early and work at the kitchen table for a few hours before my little humans begin to stir. Sometimes, I head to the local library with my kids in tow and while they check out books and read or participate in one of the library activities, I get a little bit of work done. I am a mother as well as an instructor, and teaching is not my only responsibility. This also makes the term “time off” extremely humorous. Moms….do we ever really get ‘time off’?

So, while I definitely appreciate the change in pace that the summer months offer, I do not consider my summers “time off”. I never completely disconnect from my identity as an educator. I am constantly considering ways to improve my teaching practice, serve my students, and grow as a professional. I am sure some of you can relate. So…what have you been doing this summer to prepare?

Back to School Sales!

IMG_3629This is my favorite time of year! Back to school supplies hit store shelves and there are some great deals. I spend the month of July checking weekly ads so that I can take advantage of smoking deals. School supplies can be rather expensive, so I stock up now in order to save money later.

Back to School Sales:

Staples
Office Max
Walmart
Target
Amazon

Check the ads/flyers for stores in your area to determine what is on sale each week. New sales will usually begin Sundays. Keep in mind that sales will differ every week. In addition, really good deals will go quickly, so plan to shop early in the week (preferably on Sundays or Mondays). Some deals will also be available online, so check websites weekly too.

Personal Supplies

IMG_3623There are materials that I use personally that I purchase during the summer sales. I stock up on items such as white board markers, post-it notes, and notecards. This is also a great time to purchase an academic calendar/planner and a clicker if you don’t already own one. Personal flash drives are also very helpful for storing electronic materials that you need to conduct class.

Supplies for the Classroom

IMG_3061There are also materials that I provide to my students when I ask that they complete activities in class. There are a lot of activities that you can do with Crayola markers, 3×5 cards, and paper in your classroom. Keep it simple at first and build your arsenal of materials/supplies over time. You can add a few more things each semester or at the beginning of each new school year.

Stock Up

IMG_6731I also purchase supplies to keep at home for personal use. I buy pens and pencils. I also buy crafting supplies like glue, crayons, and markers for my house (for my kids and for me). I love different color sharpies. Last year, I found a pack of 15-20 sharpies for under $10 at Walmart. I am still using them. You can get personal supplies as well as materials to use in the classroom for activities.

Educate Students

You can also ask students to bring their own materials keeping in mind that they are college students and may be living on a tight budget. College students usually return to class after K-12 schools get started. By the time they are returning to school, most of the school sales are over. However, talk to them about “Back to School” sales and encourage them to take advantage of them next year. I educate them about the types of materials they will need so that they can plan ahead and buy during the summer sales.

As you are checking ads, making lists of needed supplies, and doing your shopping, also remember, you can ask for donations. This helps to save money. Some of my colleagues ask for old magazines, scrapbooking materials, etc. to use to complete projects and activities that they use in their classes.

Have fun! Back to school shopping is an exciting time of year. You are preparing for a new semester, a new school year, a new batch of eager students who are ready to learn from you. The new school year signals a new beginning and a fresh start. Having some new and improved supplies can make it even better!

Here is a list of supplies to use as you shop for the beginning of the school year:

List of Supplies:

Planner
Clicker
flashdrive(s)
Whiteboard markers
Crayola Markers
Sharpie Markers
Crayons
Post-It notes
3×5 notecards
printer paper
card stock
Construction paper
pencils
pens
highlighters
glue
tape
white-out
paper clips
stapler/staples
notebooks
folders
binders
scissors
clipboards
pencil boxes/bags
storage containers
Clorox Disinfecting Wipes
Zuca Backpack
Vera Bradley Get Carried Away Tote

THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATED LINKS. THE LINKS PROVIDED ALLOW READERS TO ACCESS RESOURCES WE UTILIZE IN OUR CLASSES OR FOR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. PLEASE DO YOUR OWN DUE DILIGENCE AND RESEARCH BEFORE PURCHASING PRODUCTS RECOMMENDED. WE ALSO HAVE FINANCIAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH MERCHANTS MENTIONED IN VARIOUS CONTENT POSTS AND MAY BE COMPENSATED IF CONSUMERS UTILIZE THE LINKS IN POSTS. YOU ARE NOT OBLIGATED TO USE THE LINKS PROVIDED, AND THERE IS NO OBLIGATION TO BUY ANY PRODUCTS THAT WE RECOMMEND.

Mentoring

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As the fall semester draws near, we encourage you to take some time to consider those around you who will need mentoring. We encourage you to consider who you can turn to for advice if you need support – who will be your mentor? If you are full time faculty, we encourage you to take this topic to your colleagues as the semester begins. Build a strong and well structured mentoring program within the department in which you work. There are several different ways to build a mentoring program. Begin by having a discussion about who needs mentoring – new faculty, adjunct faculty, research assistants, graduate assistants, and students.

New Faculty 

A mentoring program can be created within departments or colleges to ensure that new faculty are supported. This role should be assigned to someone in the department who is willing to share resources with new faculty and offer support to them as they embark on the journey of teaching. Teaching can be challenging, time consuming and confusing when you are new in the field. Preparing, planning, researching and reading to prepare lessons to teach can be overwhelming. In addition, there are a lot of responsibilities that are involved in the profession of teaching that many new instructors are not aware of. A mentor can help to navigate through the all of the teaching responsibilities.

Adjunct Faculty

Adjunct faculty come with diverse experience and background. Some graduate with teaching degrees, and they may have some training, preparation, and experience as a teacher. Others graduate with degrees in fields that are not specific to teaching. They may choose to enter this profession by default, because they’re exploring possible career options or perhaps jobs are not available in their particular field of study. They may also choose to teach adjunct classes to share their knowledge with future professionals. For these reasons, it is important to provide training, resources, and support to them. They need to know who they can ask for advice or consult with if problems arise. The mentor should be someone who is willing to provide assistance and share resources. It is important that this person wants to do so and is not being forced to do this. This individual needs to be dynamic, open, warm, caring, and compassionate. This individual needs to have a desire to help others. New faculty will feel this desire and will be automatically drawn to them. This will make their teaching practice better and will help them develop into valuable individuals who work on your campus with your students.

Mentoring Research Assistants

Research assistants also need guidance. They will be helping with the research process, but are probably still new to the process themselves. Therefore, it is important to teach them the necessary skills to complete the tasks you are requesting. Check in with them regularly. Ask about the progress they are making. By checking in regularly, you will be able to see progress being made and determine if there are areas in which you need to provide more support and assistance. You can share resources or hold short meetings to teach them new skills necessary to continue to move forward. This is a learning process for them, so be prepare to mentor them as they grow as researchers.

Mentoring Graduate Assistants

Taking time mentoring and training graduate students can make your job a lot easier. By spending some time sharing your expectations with graduate assistants, you will have support in and out of the classroom. The more support that is provided to your students, the more successful they will be. What expectations do you have for your graduate assistants? Are they responsible for teaching classes? Preparing lessons? Locating resources to support topics you are covering? Classroom management? Grading? Offering study sessions? Holding office hours? Determine ways in which they can provide support and then share your expectations with them as well as the resources they need to do the job you are requesting.

Mentoring Students

IMG_1568When you are considering mentoring, also consider how and when you will mentor students. This does not mean offering office hours to assist students with assignments in your class. This refers to mentoring students in regards to their personal and professional goals after college. Discuss career goals with students. Discuss the steps they need to take to reach those goals. Meet with them regularly to discuss the progress they are making.
We have been blessed to have wonderful mentors come into our lives and guide us. They have helped us to make professional decisions. They have supported us in our personal lives. They are not only our mentors, but also our friends. For this reason, we have made it our mission to help people that are coming into the field by providing resources that we use to be successful. We share things that worked really well for us as well as things that did not work – our epic fails. We find that through mentoring others, we become better teachers. Remember that pouring into another person leaves a lasting impression. Whether it is a quick thirty minute discussion over a cup of coffee, a brief discussion at the copy machine, or a monthly lunch meeting, you are providing guidance and wisdom that will leave a lasting mark.

5 Practical Tips for College Students

jeremy-bishop-131058Attention Students! This blog is for you. As you prepare for college, whether you are going for the first time or you are returning after your summer vacation, here are some practical tips to make your college experience more meaningful.

1. Attend class

Attend class daily. You are at college to earn a degree. This is the ultimate goal and therefore, your number one priority must be attending class, completing course work, and successfully passing each class that you take. In order to get the most out of the classes you take, sit in the front row. Take notes. Participate. Be present. Research suggests that students who take notes by hand, retain more information from the lesson and actually process the information at a deeper level, because they are forced to put the information into their own words. So….get off your devices (computers, tablets, phones). Take notes by hand.

2. Utilize University Resources

josh-felise-79991On every college campus, the number of resource available for students vary. Locate and utilize the resources that are available on your campus. Start with the library and the librarians. You will need to write papers that are supported by research; therefore, learning to use the library as well as discovering how to contact a librarian will be important to your success.

Go to Study Sessions that your instructors or teaching assistants offer. They will assist in preparing for assessments. Being prepared can help to reduce anxiety and can help you to earn a better grade.

Attend office hours. Your instructors will have scheduled office hours. It is highly encouraged to attend office hours. Introduce yourself. Ask questions. Make personal connections with your professors.

3. Talk to Your Professors

I mean really have a conversation with your professor. Introduce yourself! Share some personal information, like where you are from, your major, a future career goal, or a personal hobby. Making connections with your professors is important. They can assist you when you are having difficulty with the course material. They can also help you as you progress through your degree program. You may find that you need or want to participate in research opportunities and your professors may be able to provide those opportunities. They can also write you a letter of recommendation for graduate school or a potential job. If your professors do not know you, they may be more reluctant to help. So make connections and form relationships with your professors.

You may chat for a minute before or after class or you can attend office hours. Perhaps your professor offers additional study sessions. Find out how and when you can connect in a more personal way.

4. Get Involved

There are numerous ways to get involved on campus.

If you live on campus, check out social activities that are sponsored or arranged within your dorm. Dorms create a sense of community and belonging on large campus, making the very big campus feel a bit smaller and more intimate. So get to know those who you reside with by getting involved in activities organized by your peers and residential leaders.

Additionally, clubs play an important role on campuses. Determine if there are clubs that are associated with your major or that support your interests that you can join.

Research opportunities and internships can not only provide the opportunity to get involved but can also help to prepare you for life after college providing experience to assist with acceptance to graduate school or when applying for future jobs.

Attend sporting events. This is a great way to stir a sense of school spirit. Or if you enjoy playing, you could participate in intramural sports. Research options for joining an intramural club team.

5. Get Out of Your Dorm Room

alexis-brown-85793Find alternative locations to study. Study in the library. This provides the opportunity to utilize campus resources, and you may find that you are able to focus with a bit more ease if you are not in your dorm room where there may be distractions that prevent you from completing your work. Get out of your dorm room and visit with friends. While your number one goal is earning a degree, you should also enjoy the time you spend on a college campus, establishing relationships. Therefore, visit with friends. Attend social events. Have fun!

Academic Freedom

Screen Shot 2017-07-04 at 6.42.15 PMWhat are your Fourth of July traditions? Do you have a picnic with family and friends? Do you have a special place where you go to watch fireworks? Growing up, my family went to the local fair ground. My grandmother LOVED to sit in the bandstand and listen to the live band until it was time for the fireworks to begin. This was our family tradition. Sometimes, my brother and I would complain about having to go to the fairground so early and sit for so long waiting for the fireworks. Today, I wish my grandmother was still here, and I could go and sit at the fairground for hours with her listening to the music in the bandstand waiting for the fireworks to begin. You see these were things I took for granted…..the time I could spend with her….my family’s tradition. We all take things for granted both in our personal and professional lives.

If you work in higher education, you have most likely heard the term academic freedom. When this term is referred to, what exactly do academics mean? Freedom, or the right to act, speak, or think as one wants without being hindered, is applied in an academic setting. This implies that academics have the right to specific freedoms as they pertain to their role as educators and in relation to the discipline in which they are experts. At a very basic level, academic freedom affords faculty the right to decide how to teach the courses they are assigned.

Academic freedom is viewed as essential to the mission of the academy – the college or university – as well as the principles of academia. It is important that faculty and students do not fear retribution for presenting information or for engaging in discussion on topics that may be viewed as controversial that pertains to their discipline. They are provided the opportunity to freely debate these topics openly sharing thoughts and opinions in a respectful and professional manner. Faculty recognize that this type of discussion is essential to promote growth – intellectual, personal, and professional. In addition, this principle also extends to research providing faculty and students the ability to select topics of interest and conduct research related to these topics. They are also permitted to share the results from research conducted freely.

On this day, as we celebrate our freedoms as Americans, please do not forget that those include the freedom to teach our classes within our disciplines, sharing ideas and engaging in debates openly. I am proud to be an American. I am equally as proud to be university professor. I don’t take these things for granted and neither should you. Happy Fourth of July!john-silliman-140814

Practical Planning Tips: Creating a Semester Schedule

holly-mindrup-73446Your syllabus has been created, proofread, and is ready to be posted or passed out. Your book has been selected. Now, you can begin lesson planning. What will you be teaching every day?

Remember…students are paying to take this course. The knowledge they gain from you by taking this course will impact them as they progress though the program. They will need this information to be successful in future courses and as a professional. Therefore, it is your job to prepare and teach. It is unprofessional let student’s go early, because you are unprepared.

Dividing Up the Material

This may take a bit of practice. First look at the topics and objectives. Are there some topics that are heavier (include more content) than others? Are there more objectives associated with some topics than others? How much time will be needed to present all of the information in each chapter – half a class period? several classes? What activities will you include? How much time will be necessary to complete each activity?

I like to make a document that includes every day the class will meet during the semester. I begin by inserting any holidays. Then I determine how much information I need to cover – usually by looking at the number of topics that are included (in the course or by checking the chapters of the textbook you are using). You may find that there is a chapter or two in the textbook that you will not be covering – again, you must consider the objectives you have developed to determine what chapters in the textbook complement them. As you review the course topics and the textbook chapters as well as the number of classes you have to cover the information, you can begin to divide up the material. Below is a sample of my course schedule from several semesters ago.

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Revise Lessons

As I move through the semester, if I am teaching a class for the first time, I tweak things as I go. I also make notes of adjustments that I need to make before teaching the class again. This may include small changes to presentations or activities. I write them down or make them right away. If I rely on remembering that those changes need to be made, and I don’t write down the changes or make them right away, then I forget.

Self-Reflection

I like to reflect on lessons after I present them. Self-reflection is a great way to improve your practice, whether you are new to the profession or have been teaching for years. Use a journal or notebook to jot down notes after each class. I consider time management; how much time it took to complete the activity. Will more time be needed in a future semester? Did it take less time than I expected? Perhaps, more examples need to be provided. How did the the lesson flow? Did you cover everything that need to be covered? Was there enough time to complete activities? How did students respond to the lesson or activity? Are there things that need to be reinforced in the next class? Are more examples necessary? Do you need to make any changes to this lesson in future semesters? If things did not go as smoothly as I expected, I begin to do some research and planning to determine how I can make the presentation or activity better in the future.

Student Feedback

I also rely on student feedback. I often ask my students for feedback on lessons or activities. I ask them if I should use the same material in a future class. I ask them how I can improve the lesson or activity. They are often more than willing to provide useful feedback on how I could make improvements.

Final Thoughts

Adjust as you go – make notes or make corrections right away; don’t rely on your memory and plan to make the changes after the semester ends or while prepping for the next semester. You will forget! Remember teaching is an art. It requires preparation and practice.

IMG_1369For more practical tips, follow our blog and follow us on social media. You are also welcome to contact us at practicalprofessors@gmail.com. We welcome the opportunity to share ideas and collaborate with you!

Dress to Impress: Practical Tips for Building a Professional Wardrobe

IMG_2440Preparing for the semester doesn’t just involve creating captivating lectures and activities. It also involves preparing yourself – to look professional. A mentor use to tell me, don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want. Her advice was to always look professional.

Many readers may be adjuncts who hope to one day become a full time faculty member. Therefore, you should be concerned with making a good first impression as well as a continued professional impression.

Audience Awareness:
Be aware of your audience. Your attire should be stylish but modest. Shirt should not be low cut, and skirts should not be too short. Clothing should be form fitting but not too tight. Make sure pants are hemmed to an appropriate length, and that they are ironed or pressed. Avoid clothing with holes. Even if the school allows more casual attire, jeans should be free from holes. Darker fabric is preferred as this looks more professional. It is best to avoid wearing stone washed or lighter colored jean fabric in slacks. Save your more casual attire for the weekends when you are preparing your lectures – not for the week days when you are presenting them.

Before You Go Shopping:
With that being said, many of you may be considering your own personal wardrobe. You may be ecstatic about an excuse to go shopping or you may be dreading it. Some of you may be thinking, this sounds expensive! You may not have the money to spend on a new wardrobe. While you may need to do some back to school shopping, clothing – stylish clothing – does not have to break the bank.

Practical Tip: Before you hit the stores, I encourage you to go through your closet and determine what items you own that can be worn in a professional environment. As you go through your closet, make a list of what you have. This will help you focus as you shop and will ensure you buy items that will complement what you already have. In addition, you can also look for some items that are versatile and practical to add to your current clothing collection. Below is a list of some things that I recommend that you have in your wardrobe.

Closet Staples:IMG_3545IMG_0786 4

  • 2 – 3 dress pants
  • 1 Blazer
  • 2 skirts or dresses
  • 2 pairs of dress shoes

Versatile Style:
I recommend buying dress pants or skirts in neutral colors. (My favorite dress pants are Express Editor Pants – I wear the classic cut and ankle length. I also love wearing Simply Vera Vera Wang pants from Kohls.) Black, grey, dark blue, and tan or light brown work well, because they can be worn with a variety of tops. Select a variety tops, short sleeves, long sleeves, fitted, flowing, solid colors, prints. You can tailor your selection to your personal style. I recommend purchasing a blazer or suit jacket that can be worn to class or to meetings, interviews, speaking events, or professional conferences. This can be paired with a pair of dress pants or a nice skirt or dress. Select a blazer in a color that can be worn with a variety of items in your wardrobe.

Shoes!
Finally, let’s talk about comfortable shoes. Remember, you may be walking a rather far distance to the classroom where you will be teaching. While heels may look cute, they may not be the best option. I recommend a few pairs of flat shoes or low wedges in neutral colors. I also like a few pairs of dressy boots for colder days – which are few and far between in Phoenix, AZ. Depending upon where you live, you may get more use of these than I do.

Practical Advice: I like to wear heels. However, I also have to walk across campus to my classroom or for meetings. So, I carry ballet flats in my work bag. I can slip these on if I need to walk across campus. Then I just change into my heels when I get to my meeting or classroom.

Places to Shop:
Two of my go-to stores are Kohls and Target. I can find just about any type of clothing that I am looking for at Kohls. From seasonal options to shoes, from professional clothing to casual clothing, Kohls carries everything. They also have great sales and coupons! Target is not necessarily a store that I go to in search of clothing, I usually go in for other items and end up in the clothing section, eventually during my visit. I always start my search on the sale racks! I have purchased practical flats and boots, cardigans and light jackets, and shirts for work.

Consignment shops can also be great for updating your wardrobe. However, they tend to be more of a hit or miss in terms of what you find. You may find killer deals or you may walk out empty handed. However, if you have time to scour the racks, then this can be a great option. I have been known to find cute shirts, pants, or even a nice blazer in my searches.

I also like to shop at stores like TJ Max or Ross, but again, these are hit or miss. However, if you need to update your wardrobe with some shirts for the season, you can do so pretty easily and cheaply in these stores.

While I am willing to wear a shirt from just about anywhere as long as it is cute and comfortable, pants are a different story. I buy the majority of my dress pants from the Express. I have been wearing Editor Dress pants from Express for fifteen years. I actually have two pairs that are at least 10 years old. They are great quality, and they fit very well. I can generally find a sale or coupon to use. Sometimes, Express runs a buy one get one half off sale. I also shop at the Express outlet or online for deals. Once you know the style and size that you like, you can easily shop online too which makes finding sales and deals even easier. I definitely prefer shopping online!

Accessorize:IMG_2737
Accessorizing can change the entire look of an outfit. I love scarfs! I buy them at the end of seasons when they are on sale. I tend to buy most of my scarfs from Charming Charlie’s for about $5 each; rarely do I pay more. Earrings also can dress up an outfit. One of my girlfriend’s sells Premier Designs Jewelry. This company is a direct sales company so you will need to find a jeweler if you wish to purchase the products. The quality of the jewelry as well as the return policy if something breaks has guaranteed my business for the last ten years. I try to host a party once a year. By hosting a party, I get my girlfriends together for a fun afternoon or evening out, and I earn FREE jewelry. Not bad if you are on a budget!

Sale Tips:
I LOVE a good sale! I try my very best to only shop sales. One great way to do this is to buy at the end of a season. I have found some great deals doing this. You may also have the opportunity to combine sale prices with coupons or other deals. Finally, I highly recommend asking if the stores where you shop offer discounts to teachers. There are numerous retailers who offer teacher discounts.

Dress to impress! You make an impression every time you step foot on campus. You never know who may pop into your classroom or see you walking from across campus. Make sure that every day, you are making the right impression – a good impression!

THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATED LINKS. THE LINKS PROVIDED ALLOW READERS TO ACCESS RESOURCES WE UTILIZE IN OUR CLASSES OR FOR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. PLEASE DO YOUR OWN DUE DILIGENCE AND RESEARCH BEFORE PURCHASING PRODUCTS RECOMMENDED. WE ALSO HAVE FINANCIAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH MERCHANTS MENTIONED IN VARIOUS CONTENT POSTS AND MAY BE COMPENSATED IF CONSUMERS UTILIZE THE LINKS IN POSTS. YOU ARE NOT OBLIGATED TO USE THE LINKS PROVIDED, AND THERE IS NO OBLIGATION TO BUY ANY PRODUCTS THAT WE RECOMMEND.

Practical Tips for New Instructors: Preparing for the Semester

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As a new adjunct working at a local community college twelve years ago, I remember thinking “where in the world do I begin?”. I was luckier than most. My faculty mentor handed me a textbook and a copy of her syllabus to help me get started. However, I still had to prepare. I had to review her syllabus and determine what the information I was provided meant and how I was going to implement it into my class for the semester. Whether you are writing a course from scratch or you are provided custom content, the information below will help you as you prepare for the semester.

Syllabus

The course syllabus is the “road map” for the course. This important document communicates expectations to students. The more detailed your syllabus is, the less room there is for confusion. The syllabus should include:

  • Instructor Contact Information/Office Hours
  • Textbook Information/Additional Readings
  • Topics
  • Objectives
  • Assignments
  • Course/Classroom Policies

Objectives

Course objectives should be measurable or observable statements that can answer the question “Are the students learning?”. You may be given the course objectives…..you may not. Either way, an understanding of the importance of objectives is essential as an educator. This first step to planning your semester is determining what they students need to know, when they leave your class.

This requires considering several things….

What class did students take previously? What are you building upon? What information have they already gained?

What class will they be taking after your class? What do you need to prepare them for?
What are the most important concepts/topics in your class you are teaching? How will you measure if students are learning these concepts?

Once you determine what students need to learn, you can begin writing objectives. Bloom’s Taxonomy uses action words to describe cognitive processes that student will encounter as the interact with the course material.  The action words provided by Bloom’s Taxonomy can be used to write measurable objectives. By writing measurable objectives at an appropriate level for the students you are teaching, you can now determine the type of assessments you will use. These become your assignments/assessments.

This does not have to be complicated but it does need to be carefully considered, because your objectives should drive the course. They will lead you to create lectures, select a textbook, write assignment descriptions, and create assessments.

If you are not sure if objectives are included, ask another faculty member at the school. Ask a department chair, the dean, or someone in your department who can help to guide you. If you are aware of other instructors are teaching the same class you are teaching, you may wish to collaborate on writing the course objectives – or see if they have some objectives that you can review and incorporate or work from – modify or add to.

Just remember, each objective must be assessed in a tangible way.

Assignments

How will you measure student learning?
Quizzes/Exams
Papers
Projects
Presentations
Discussions Questions

Each assignment or assessment must align to a course objective. Assignments and assessments should not be randomly selected. By aligning assignments and assessments to course objectives, students can identify the reason or purpose for each assignment or assessment.

Book Selection

jessica-ruscello-196422.jpgSelect a book that complements the course objectives that you identified. The book should provide information on topics that you will cover. However, the textbook should not drive the content of the course. Rather than selecting a textbook and then building your class around the textbook, develop your course and select a book that complements the topics and objectives you have identified. Keep in mind that a textbook can be supplemented with journal articles and other readings or materials.

Contact various academic publishers and request desk copies of books that are relevant to your course content. Some publishers I have reviewed and used include Cengage Learning,  McGraw Hill, Pearson, and W. W. Norton & Company. Publishers will have websites that you can explore. Locate textbooks that may be useful and contact the publisher to request copies. Explain to the publisher that you are searching for a textbook for the course you are teaching. Most publishers will offer desk copies (free instructor copies) for you to review.

It may also be helpful to talk to other instructors who teach similar content to find out what books they use in their classes.

 

IMG_1318Feeling overwhelmed? As you prepare for your classes, feel free to reach out to us with questions. You can post them below or shoot us an email at practicalprofessors@gmail.com. We are happy to help you!

You may also find these blogs helpful: 5 Tips for Preparing for Next Semester and Tips for Preparing to Teach a New Class

Tips for Preparing to Teach a New Class

How do you keep you head above water when you are teaching a class for the first time?

Planning to teach a new class can be extremely time consuming, a bit overwhelming, stressful…..need we go on? But does it have to be? Are there ways to create lessons that are effective, in a timely manner, with reduced stress?

YES! Let us share some ideas that may reduce stress and make preparing to teach a new class a bit easier.

The syllabus is your roadmap!

rawpixel-com-211022As instructors, we harp on students to read the syllabus. This is their guide to the elements and expectations of the course. If a syllabus is provided as part of a centralized curriculum, then just as we instruct students to do, start your preparation by reading the syllabus! Before you begin planning a lecture and putting together powerpoints, it is important to review the syllabus. Many colleges and universities are moving toward a centralized curriculum for accreditation purposes, which means you will not be expected to write your own syllabus. The syllabus will detail course objectives, the required readings, and assignment guidelines. Reviewing the syllabus will help you to prepare your lectures and powerpoints. So, this should be your starting point.

Course Objectives, Readings and Assignments

Course objectives are statements that clearly detail what students will learn by the end of the course. Review the course objectives and focus on creating lectures that include and expand on the course objectives. As you create your lectures, it is also important to cover required readings as this will help you to prepare for class and answer questions that student might ask. Review assignment requirements. Determine if there is information that you will need to present in class to ensure students are prepared to complete assignments.tom-hermans-264015

Active Learning

Consider if the topics can be covered by participating in activities.  When students can apply the information they are learning, rather than passively listening to it being presented in a lecture format, this will increase the chances they they learn and remember the information. For example, have students come up with examples to illustrate definitions rather than simply just writing definitions to terms. They can share their examples in class. This activity breaks up lecturing, gets students involved, and helps them to apply the terms/definitions they are learning. This is also a great way to complement powerpoint slides, if terms are included and they are a bit dry (like they may be the first time you teach a class).

Students Prepare and Teach Lessons

You may also consider how students can contribute to the planning of the class. You are the instructor. You are paid to be the content expert, but that doesn’t mean that students can’t prepare and present information on topics. Are there topics that students would benefit from researching and presenting to their peers? This should not replace you planning, but rather should complement it. You will be responsible to add or clarify information as students share their presentations.

Students are creative and can come up with some very interesting presentations, activities, etc. when they are challenged with this task. As long as they are learning the material, and you are guiding the process, you have done your job. Have them help with the planning!

For example, I teach a capstone class for senior students. While I could stand and talk to them about preparation for job interviews, I find it more effective to break students into pairs and have them research small topics that are related to interviewing (ex. interview questions and answers, phone interviewing tips, how to dress professionally, business casual versus business attire, how to write an post-interview thank you note or email). Each pair is asked to put together a 3-5 minute presentation on the topic. They also have to include one deliverable – a sheet with some tips, a power point presentation, a resource that their peers can refer back to.

This activity is one that students enjoy – they like to hear from their peers. And….they are gaining the necessary information on their topic as well. This also generates some really good discussions. Finally, they are practicing their public speaking and presenting skills. Being an effective communicator is important regardless of your major.

5 Tips for Accepting and Planning to Teach A Class for the First TimeIMG_1389

  1. Do not accept contracts for classes that you are not qualified to teach. You are the content expert paid to present the material. If your educational training and experience have not prepared you to teach the content, then do not accept the contract.
  2. Review the textbook and assigned readings before you begin planning. Being familiar with what the students are reading will assist you preparing class lecture and experiences for students. It will also help to prepare you to answer questions that students ask.
  3. Use the publisher resources. Most publishers will provide resources through a website. You may have to request access to the publisher resources. You can send an email request to the publisher and ask for access to be granted. Publisher resources often include powerpoints, test banks, and activities.
    Please note: you may need to adjust and adapt these resources. For example, you may need to revise powerpoints to make them a bit more interesting or interactive. 
  4. Locate and incorporate videos, such as TED talks.
  5. Implement activities! Activities help to reinforce information that they have reviewed in their weekly reading or that you have presented in class during lecture. When they are engaged and actively participating, they are learning!

Things I can’t teach without…

As an instructor, there are several things that I use daily that help make my job much easier. I am going to share them with you. Perhaps, you will find that they will make your life a bit easier in the classroom too.

1. Post-It Notes

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 8.23.02 PMPersonally and professionally, these have become a staple in my life. I write myself reminders constantly. I am so busy that if I try to rely on my memory, I will forget and will wake up in the middle of the night in a panic remembering what I forgot to do. Stress! So, I write down reminders as soon as things pop into my head, and I post them in an appropriate location. My computer monitor at work, my bathroom mirror at home, and even in my car, on the dashboard. I keep post-it notes with me – in my desk drawer, my work bag, my car, my purse (and even in my night stand next to my bed – in case I do have a thought in the middle of the night – jotting it down allows me to go back to sleep more easily). They serve as my “personal assistant”.

2. My Planner (and cool pens)

IMG_0160I use a planner. Every December, this is definitely something I look forward to – getting a new planner.  This year, I was gifted a really fun one from one of my wonderful Instructional Assistants (more about them in a post to come) that is color coded and includes stickers. It has a weekly view with journaling room to write down notes. It also includes a monthly view so that I can scan my week and month in a glance. I spend time planning. This helps me to get all of the important things happening throughout the week and month scheduled. It allows me to keep track of my schedule, my husband’s schedule, and my kids’ activities. By writing down commitments, then I can determine weeks when grading or other tasks will be difficult to complete, so that I can plan ahead or make adjustments to help avoid unnecessary stress. Again, by writing things down, I am less likely to forget, which also reduces stress!

3. My Vera Bradley Bag(s)

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 8.22.03 PMThis accessory is not only practical, but stylish! Vera Bradley makes the cutest totes, backpacks, and lunch bags. There are a variety patterns to choose from. These bags are cute and practical and allow me to carry material to my classes. There are plenty of pockets and compartments to store everything that I need for class to run smoothly and successfully. I also like that  different size cosmetic bags can be used to hold pencil pens, whiteboard markers, personal items (like chapstick, cough drops, hand cream, etc.). New patterns come out a few times a year. But, I like to shop sale patterns/items online. Who doesn’t love a good sale!?!?

4. Name Tags

I start every semester by having my Instructional Assistants create name tags for students in my classes. This not only helps me to get to know their names, but it also helps to create a classroom community, because students can use the name tags to learn their classmates’ names too. It helps the class to feel more cohesive. Name tags are passed out at the beginning of each class, and collected at the end of every class (because if I don’t collect them, they never return to class). My classes are about 90+ students, and I teach a minimum of four every semester. By using name tags, I can learn the majority of my students’ names. Learning students’ names has many benefits including making the class more meaningful and enjoyable (for the students and for you), tracking attendance, making connections with students, and checking-in with students who are struggling.

Tip: Print the name tags on cardstock so they can be folded and will easily stand up. You could also pass out cardstock and have students make their own name tag on the first day of class. You may also wish to bring markers to class if you choose to allow student to make their own.

5. My Clicker

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 8.37.00 PMA clicker allows me the freedom to move around the classroom as I lecture. I can lecture from anywhere in the classroom, and I can click through powerpoint slides projected with ease. I am not tied to the podium in the front of the room, which definitely helps with classroom management. My clicker also has a laser pointer so I can point out important information on the slides being displayed.

6. Finally, COFFEE!

I enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning, mid-morning, before a late afternoon class. Coffee is also great when collaborating….. in my office with a colleague or a meeting with an adjunct instructor in the coffee shop. Or with a student in the library discussing an assignment or career options. There is never a bad time for a cup of coffee!

What do you find it hard to teach without? Add your comments below.

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