When I first started teaching I only thought about my class. I thought about what my students needed to know and what theories or skills they needed to master to do well on assignments specific to the course I was teaching. Years later as a program chair and a member of the general education committee, I realized how important it was to consider how the courses I taught fit into a students’ program of study and future vocation.
The Big Picture
No matter what course you are teaching, it is important to remember that it is just a piece of the overall puzzle. It is part of a students’ program. Regardless of whether it is a general education course or a course specific to the major, every course should be created with the intention to prepare students for the workforce and life beyond college. What skills can you teach in addition to the course content that will serve this purpose?
Don’t Take It Personally
When teaching courses that are a part of the general education curriculum, it is easy to become discouraged. Students enrolled in these courses may be from a variety of different majors and may not share your passion for subject matter. For example, you may be teaching an economics course, which is slated as part of the general education curriculum, which means many of your students are pursuing different majors. In order to be effective and reach all of your students, consider using a variety of examples related to different industries. Also remember critical thinking and effective communication essential skills that should be promoted in every class across all majors.
Once, a pre-med student that told me my class was irrelevant to her field of study. She considered taking my class a waste of time. This comment could have upset me, but I decided to accept the challenge, and I intentionally began to share more real-world application that was cross discipline. Examples help students to see how general education curriculum applies in their personal and professional lives. At the end of the seamster, I received a beautifully written Christmas card thanking me and sharing how she believed the information she obtained in the course would help in her future role as a doctor.
Consider Degree Progression
If you are teaching a class in your major, it is essential that you prepare the them for courses they will take later in the degree progression. Looking at the course catalog can help you to gain an understanding of what courses your students took prior to your course and what they will likely take next. I have a wonderful colleague that really works with students to improve their writing and thinking; I can always tell when students have had his class. When I hear students have had his class, I am confident that they learned essential writing skills but also were presented essential information necessary to be successful in the course I am teaching. Be the instructor that has a positive reputation for genuinely teaching the course material and preparing students for success in their classes and as a future professional in the field.
Application, Application, Application!
I am terrible at math! And when I was a college student, I believed I would never use the math skills I was being taught. I realize math is important and there are countless applications of math. I only began to see the application for math when I took college algebra (for the second time) from an instructor who made real life applications. She made math relevant, and I began to see how it applied to my life. For the first time in my life, math made sense.
Many of the skills and theories students learn while they are in college will inform their future either personally or professionally, even if it’s not a part of their major. For example, a public speaking course will teach students how to effectively communicate their ideas to an audience. While the applications of your discipline may seem obvious to you, it may not be as obvious to an adolescent. The relevance and application may be unclear; therefore, it is your responsibility to share the relevance and application. Discuss this often throughout the semester!
Teach Transferable Skills
It is also important to consider how assignments can include real world relevance and application. For example, rather than requiring that students write a paper, perhaps you modify the delivery and have students create and deliver a presentation. Obtaining numerous skills including written as well as verbal communication skills are necessary across a variety of disciplines. In my experience, students like working on projects that have real world applications because they perceive these assignments as valuable to their future. It is important to remember that you are preparing students to be productive members of society. You are preparing them to be professionals in their field, but also well-rounded individuals whose skill set is diverse. Consider ways in which you can do that while teaching them the material specific to your class.