Janet Mizrahi is a continuing lecturer of professional writing at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is also an author at BizCommBuzz.
Ever wish you could travel back in time to when you first started teaching? If I could, I’d tell myself to consider the lessons I’ve learned below; read on for tips for new teachers and tenured instructors alike.
1. Don’t take student evaluations personally.
Student evaluations are proven to be inaccurate. They favor male professors and stifle good pedagogy, yet they seem as woven into the fabric of higher education as finals week.
Nevertheless, even though most of my student evaluations are positive, I focus on the few negative and mean-spirited comments. I know in my heart that these numerical and narrative evaluations of my performance are statistically invalid, but still, I suffer. A lot. Obviously, my advice is aspirational.
2. Collaborate and develop relationships with colleagues.
Academia can be a cutthroat business. There are only so many positions and so many more people who want them. But, in my experience, collaborating with my colleagues has led to deep professional relationships that have helped my career in many ways. Some of the best parts of my career have been learning from my colleagues and passing on what I know to the newbies.
3. Remember they’re just kids.
My students not only look younger each year—they behave younger. Then I remind myself: While they’re old enough to vote and drink legally (or illegally), their brains still haven’t reached the level of executive function they will in their mid-20s.
Many students are also away from home for the first time. Many have never been responsible for making their own meals, doing their own laundry or setting their own bedtimes.
So, to me, they’re just kids. By reminding myself of that, I take pity on them more than I did when I first began teaching. I thought being tough was setting my students up for success after graduation, but now I’ve decided to let the work world do that job.
4. Don’t let your negative personality traits seep into your professional life.
See above. Before I reined in traits I used to consider immutable, I allowed characteristics I don’t care for in myself to rear their ugly heads in my classroom. I was blunt and sometimes harsh.
In retrospect, I wish my students wouldn’t have experienced those negative parts of me. I am a kinder version of myself now, and I think my students appreciate it.
5. Understand your school’s employment policies.
Teaching may be a calling, but it’s also a job. Unless you know the policies and procedures that guide your career, you could end up missing the train. If you are represented by a union, read the MOU.
If not, understand your school’s academic personnel policies and be aware of hiring and firing practices. Know what can get you rehired or thrown out, what your benefits cover and what they don’t, and how much you’re expected to do outside of your classroom. Ignoring this information can be detrimental to a career.
If I could go back in time, I’d probably make a few changes in my career. But not many. I know what I’ve accomplished, and that’s enough most of the time.
Read more about Janet’s teaching journey here.