Teaching psychology for the first time can bring up a lot of emotions: excitement, fear, trepidation, eagerness, rage, feelings of inadequacy, and even nervous laughter. When 50 pairs of starving hyenas’ eager undergraduates’ eyes are staring at you for the first time, expecting words to come from your mouth, and more than that, infallibly factual words… it can be a little intimidating. Couple that with a strong imposter syndrome (I’m still learning too, you know!), and it’s a wonder we’re not all incapacitated by bind attacks from a Bulbasaur (ah Pokémon, how I missed you).
No matter your reasons for getting into teaching (having a TA-ship, being forced/encouraged by your advisor, having a martyr complex, or a genuine desire to teach), the first time might feel more like drowning than teaching. However, with some quick tips, compiled and condensed here by yours truly, you’ll be on your way to swimming like Michael Phelps in no time! (marijuana optional).
In the beginning…
1. Prepare! Utilize resources.
Why do more work than you need to? Sign up for an instructor account with the publisher of the textbook you’ll be using, and you can get a FREE desk copy and access to online resources (premade lectures, interactive activities, and even exam questions). Experienced instructors who have taught that class before can be a great resource as well. Many universities also have teaching centers that have an army of people ready and willing to help you out.
2. Good for you! Now avoid the curse of coverage and focus instead on student learning.
Aim for 3-5 main points per lecture. Feel like you’re leaving a lot out? Of course you do; that’s why you’re the instructor (with a lot more knowledge), and they’re the students. Moving from a teaching to learning focus means moving from “how much information can I throw at students” to “how can I help students construct knowledge and apply it in new ways?”
3. Relax! Students very likely barely think about you outside of class.
Remember the name of your 3rd semester English professor? No? I thought so. As hard as it is to fathom (particularly when the class you’re teaching takes up 96% of your time), remember that for your students, they likely have 4 more classes, and they will only think about you for the minimal amount of time necessary. This means the time you spilled coffee on yourself or let out a Freudian slip? They were too concerned with their lunch plans to notice, care, or remember.
It’s week 12, and I’m a little bored…
4. Mix it up!
Your students will be happier (and importantly, you will be happier) if you throw a little variety in the mix: lectures, small group discussions, debates, mock trials (a fun twist on a traditional debate), and even a field trip or two. Just remember to keep a solid focus, so your activities are still promoting mindful learning, not just mere engagement.
5. Great job! Now take student evals into account… with a grain (or two) of salt.
Yes, they’re important when you get reviewed as an instructor, but don’t tie them to your self-esteem. In all likelihood, you’ll get a mix, some good, some not-so-good. Focus on improving the bad ones that were echoed by several students, but realize that you can’t make everyone happy, and always end with some positive evaluations that can brainwash motivate you to do it all over again next semester!
If you want more great resources, check out APA’s very own Society for the Teaching of Psychology.
About me: Ana is a 4th-year graduate student in the Experimental Psychology program with a concentration in Social Psychology at Saint Louis University.