Reflecting on my first year as a full-time clinical assistant professor, I feel that I have experienced significant growth in my teaching. Previously, as an adjunct, I often had to create course content without much guidance or formal training; however, now, as a dedicated full-time faculty member, I have had the opportunity to attend several informative university-provided training sessions during my first year. Additionally, I frequently explore websites and social media platforms related to higher education, which have been invaluable sources of insight and ideas. I am also grateful for the kind and seasoned colleagues who have taken the time to share their favorite, creative, and engaging teaching techniques with me. Here are the key lessons I have learned and the strategies I have embraced for effective teaching.
Greetings before meetings
One week before meeting my students, I post a welcome announcement on Blackboard. In this announcement, I introduce myself and ask students to send me a follow-up email. This email serves to make them comfortable with corresponding with me and should include their preferred name, preferred pronoun, career aspirations, and favorite food. The food choice helps me understand a bit about their cultural background, while knowledge of their career dreams enables me to tailor class topics to their interests. As a little incentive, I offer an extra point on their first quiz for sending the email and many students choose to reply.
While there are mandatory components of a standard syllabus, I also add welcoming elements. I always begin my syllabus with an inclusive and inspirational quote. I incorporate graphs and charts to clarify grading. Instead of “office hours,” I use the term “student hours” to emphasize that these hours are for the benefit of the students. Finally, I list simple strategies for success to help students be effective learners.
Let’s make it cozy
The classroom’s layout and decor are among the first welcoming signs for students. Arriving 10 minutes early to prepare the room is crucial. I adjust the lighting, open blinds when possible, arrange the tables in a modified horseshoe shape, and add a flower arrangement whenever I can. Creating an inviting environment ensures that students feel comfortable, relaxed, and cared for at the beginning of each class session. It also enhances the teaching experience for the instructor.
Let’s dance together
To infuse joy and inclusivity into the class, I curate class playlists on Spotify. Using PollEverywhere, I ask students to suggest their favorite songs or musical artists. I then create a playlist that is diverse and inclusive. Students instantly feel welcome when they hear their chosen music. To ensure inclusivity, I check the lyrics to avoid any offensive language.
Names are important
Recognizing that remembering names is not an area of strength for me, I create name plates before the class meets. This allows students to display their names during each session, relieving the pressure to memorize 30 names quickly. I provide these name plates for the first few weeks until I have successfully learned each preferred name. Providing them individually also helps with greetings and tracking attendance.
First simple in-class request
The first class should focus on getting to know each other and understanding the course. Instead of rushing through introductions and syllabus review as I used to do, I now take my time with fun icebreakers, syllabus discussions, and a “Who is In Class” survey inspired by the book What Inclusive Instructors Do: Principles and Practices for Excellence in College Teaching by Addy et al. (2021). This survey prompts students to share important personal information such as work hours, commuting time, computer access, racial background, and gender identity. This data helps me understand my audience better and identify any barriers they may face outside and inside the classroom.
Students need opportunities to process information during lectures. Using the Think-Pair-Share approach, students think about a provided prompt, discuss it with a neighbor, and then share their thoughts with the entire class. This not only facilitates comprehension and learning but also makes it easier for reserved students to engage with a large audience, fostering a sense of comfort.
Small groups work
While lecturing is one way to convey information, other methods, like gallery walks, encourage student interaction during the teaching and learning process. During a gallery walk, each group answers a prompt, posting their findings on large poster papers that are then placed around the classroom. Groups can explore these posters together and leave comments with sticky notes. The teacher facilitates this rotation to keep the activity dynamic and engaging.
Exit tickets, please
As the class concludes, I often ask students to complete an exit ticket. This allows them to reflect on what they have learned in the session and identify any points they need further clarification on. The exit ticket may request written or visual responses or ask students to rate the effectiveness of the lecture. This practice not only helps students solidify their learning but also provides valuable feedback to the instructor.
In conclusion, my first year as a full-time professor has been a transformative journey. While I believed I was a capable adjunct professor, this experience has shown me how much I had yet to learn about the art of teaching. The growth I have experienced has yielded positive results in terms of student attendance, engagement, feedback, and learning outcomes. I highly recommend that new teachers take the time during their first year to explore best practices in teaching and implement them with confidence. Success is within reach for both us and our students.
Professor Anne Perri Koba, MS, OTR/L has been a clinical assistant professor in the Occupational Therapy Program at the University of Hartford, since August 2022. Her background is in pediatric occupational therapy along with years of working as an adjunct professor at Bay Path University, Manchester Community College and California State University at Dominguez Hills.
Addy, T. M., Dube, D., Mitchell, K. A., SoRelle, M. E. (2021). What inclusive instructors do: Principles and practices for excellence in college teaching. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
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