First Semester College Instructors

When I started working as a college instructor, I was overwhelmed. I knew my content (remedial English compostition). I had shadowed my Program Chair to observe how he ran his classroom. I even “student taught” a few of his classes. I had met with my mentor (the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs.) for guidance. Even with all of that, I felt like I was in over my head. Being a first time college instructor can be very challenging. Even if you know your content, you can hit road blocks. No matter how prepared you are, first time college instructors often find themselves facing interesting situations. There is no step by step guide to having a good first semester, but there are a few things you can do to make your life as a first time college instructor a little easier.

1) Never tell your students it is your first semester teaching. My mentor gave me this little bit of advice, and I am very glad I took it. Admitting you are a newbie is like affixing the “kick me” sign to your own back. My first semester students were brutal to begin with. If I would have told them that, they would have ripped me to shreds. I had an easy out. I had been with the college for about a year and a half when I started teaching. I had been working in the Registrar’s Office, but they didn’t know that. The best plan it no avoid bringing the subject up.

2) Make sure you assert authority early on in the semester. As a younger teacher, I knew asserting authority over students may age and older would be a challenge. I made sure my rules were clear, and I stuck to them throughout the semester. That worked well. My mistake was not being as forceful as I could have been in the classroom. If people were talking, I would talk over them. If I knew people were playing on the computer instead of paying attention, I would just let it go. I was stuck in the mindset of wanting to be a likeable instructor. I did not want to be one of those drill sergeant type instructors that made learning torture. However, I went too far with that. I needed to find a better balance and assert more control over my classroom.
3) Think of your students when you plan lecture. You may think that you have tons of material to cover your allotted time, but sometimes you will be very wrong. There is nothing worse than running out of things to talk about when you still have a good half an hour to go. Other times you will have way too much material to cover, and you will run out of time. It is okay to plan for some question and answer time, but if you have a quiet class this could be a problem. This happened my first semester. They were pretty unresponsive. Then I adjusted my lesson plans for my next semester. My new students were much more needy, so now I was running out of time each class meeting. Remember your students are your audience. You need to make the lecture so it is beneficial to them. Be aware of your students’ needs and attitudes.

4) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. First time college instructors have their work cut out for them. The good news is all of us have gone through that first semester. Find a mentor. There is no better resource than a seasoned veteran to show you the ropes. Join an online community. Live Journal ( has some educator groups. Members share stories and ideas. They also serve as moral support for the other instructors in the group. It is a good way to get multiple points of view.

5) Don’t take it personally. No one is expecting you to walk into a classroom for the very first time and magically transform into the teacher of the year. You will make mistakes. You will have lectures that totally bomb. You are still in the learning process. If your students don’t get something the first time around, cover it again. Try a different approach with the material. Remember you can’t force your students to pay attention, learn, or even show up. The best plan is to create an enjoyable learning environment. Teaching is hard work, and you are just beginning your journey. Over time things will get easier.

If you are just starting your career, good luck! Being a college instructor is a very challenging and rewarding job. Keep these five things in mind and you will be off to a great start! If you are already a few semesters in, (and still struggling) don’t give up. Sometimes it just takes a while to hit your stride! These five suggestions may help you gain some focus and perspective.

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