2.4 Preparing for your first class

Class teaching is discussed in Section 3|. However, there are some important issues to consider when preparing to teach for the first time.

When you have made yourself familiar with the syllabus and learning aims and outcomes of the course you will teach on, you will need to plan the actual classes.

Thinking about content

You may wish to attend the lectures for the course to help you orientate your class teaching and synchronise your approach with that of the lecturer. Indeed some courses require GTAs to attend lectures. As mentioned earlier, lecturers often put their lecture materials on Moodle. Looking at past exam papers can also help you determine the themes and issues that should take a greater priority in your teaching. Some class teachers describe allocating the content of their classes into two planning columns, 'must have' and 'nice to have'. Reading lists at the School are often very extensive but some will indicate "core" texts as opposed to "further reading". However, many students will ask for further guidance in prioritising their reading. You may wish to add to this analysis, and/or suggest other reading. In making your selections do consult with the teacher responsible for the course, and do check that anything you recommend is part of the library stock by contacting the librarian responsible for your department.

Beginnings

The first class with a new group of students is always an exciting time. Both you and the students may feel nervous and shy in the new group. Work hard to make everyone feel welcome and quickly at ease in the class. Establish rapport with the students and develop a positive working environment for all. There are many approaches that GTAs use to do this. Here are some suggestions:

I always introduce myself and give the students my contact details and office hours first. I then go on and ask them to introduce themselves to the class, asking for their name, degree and why they chose this course.

I tried this last term - I said please introduce yourself to the person next to you. Then I asked each student to introduce their neighbour to the rest of the class. I am lucky, I am teaching a subject close to my research and so I try and tell the students why I love the subject. I ask them what interests them about it and from there explain the syllabus we will be covering.

In the first class we play a memory game where everyone says their name and those of all the other students who have already said theirs. By the end we've heard most names about a dozen times so it's easy for everyone to remember.

You may find it useful to have a clear agenda for your first session, to be sure that you remember things such as:

  • introducing yourself;
  • getting students familiar with each other;
  • giving an overview of the course, or at least how classes work within the course - including how students will both work with course content, and the kinds of skills they may be developing as well;
  • working with the class to agree 'ground rules' and ways you will work together (eg discussing expectations around weekly workload/reading, punctuality, meeting assessment deadlines, student contribution to discussions, etc - if these matters are not discussed early on, it may be difficult to sort out problems that arise later) - for more on this see Managing expectations in Section 3.3;
  • ensuring there is some time in the first session for 'real' work - ie subject specialist work;
  • setting the group up for the coming week (readings, roles, your office hours, their next lecture, etc); and
  • mentioning Moodle (if applicable) - if your students have difficulty accessing it or have any problems using it, ask them to contact the IT Services helpdesk.

An approach that has worked really well for an Economics GTA is learning the names of her students and addressing them during class while discussing the problem sets, using their first names.

 

In a quantitative class one GTA has developed a checklist to remind himself of important points to include at the beginning of the first class:

Checklist for running my first class

  • My name and contact details (on the board):
    - by email
    - office hours (building, office, time)
  • Their names and emails (check to ensure they all use LSE email - note I won't send to other email accounts)
  • Check first names/preferred names for class against formal name and photo
  • Note the information they will get from me (deadlines, updates, marking, etc)
  • Ask them to attach the following to homework:
    - my name   
    - their name   
    - module       
    - group       
    - week/item
  • Tell them to staple this information to homework and post in GTA pigeon hole


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