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New Instructors: Know the Basics Before You Teach

Congratulations! You landed a faculty position, but now what? From the logistics of navigating an unfamiliar office to the new courses that need to be prepped, it can be overwhelming getting the semester started off on the right foot. Presented below is a list of things to help you get acclimated to your new position.

  1. Information 101

First and foremost, it’s important to know where to find the information you’ll need regularly in your new position. A good way to keep up with this is to set up bookmarks for all the sites you’ll need access to. The sites listed below are a place to start that bookmark list:

  • Your college or university’s home page
  • Course Schedule
  • Academic Calendar
  • Final Exam Schedule
  • Catalog
  • Faculty/Staff Homepage and Handbook
  • Learning Management System
  • Online Homework Systems
  1. Course Prep

Teaching a class for the first time at a new institution is no simple task. You are an expert in the subject, but you are not yet an expert in how your department expects the class to be run. Here are things to consider as you prep your courses:

  • Standard Syllabus

See if a general syllabus checklist exists for your institution. Many schools have topics or language, such as dates from the academic calendar or information regarding students with disabilities, that must be included on all syllabi. Check for this before you spend too much time writing a syllabus that doesn’t fit the requirements.

  • Department Specific Requirements

Once you’ve found a general outline for your syllabus, check with your department for more specific requirements. Some courses, especially those serving as pre-requisites to other courses, may have well-defined sections from a certain book that you must cover. Be sure you are preparing your students for the next course!

  • Standard Grading Scale

Ask which courses are coordinated, perhaps with similar grading scales, homework systems, or common finals. Core courses tend to have some structure built in to them by the department so that all students taking them have a similar experience, whereas upper level courses tend to give faculty more freedom.

  • Shared Instructor Resources

Check for shared resources. Your department may have a shared drive where faculty can drop syllabi, tests, and class notes or slides to help others. If not, many faculty members are often happy to collaborate and share if you ask. Seeing other instructors work also helps you to manage expectations in the structure, pacing and requirements for your course.

  • Required Office Hours

Determine how many office hours are expected of you, and if there are any requirements for how they are scheduled. Everyone may have a certain number per week that is required, or it may depend on your individual course load. Virtual office hours are rising in popularity with the growth of online courses, so that may be an option as well.

  1. Location of Key Resources

There are many non-teaching logistics you’ll need (or want) to know as well. Ask a colleague or your department’s administrative assistant these questions.

  • Where are the copy machine and printer located and how do I use them? Do I make my copies myself or do I submit them somewhere?
  • Where are extra office supplies? What supplies do I have access to and what am I responsible for myself?
  • What technology is available in the classroom and how do I set it up? Who do I call when I need help?
  • What are the procedures if I have a disruptive student? If I suspect a student is cheating?
  • What am I responsible for reporting in addition to a final grade? A midterm grade? Attendance or non-attendance?  

You’re now on your way to a successful first semester! Enjoy it! And don’t be too shy to ask a colleague for help. We’ve all been there before.

About the Author

Abby Noble is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Middle Georgia State University. There she teaches a variety of courses, from core classes to senior-level and everything in between. She enjoys outreach as much as teaching, especially organizing and volunteering at many annual events aimed at K-12 students in the community, including the Academic Bowl, Math Olympics, and Math Puzzle Party. In her spare time, she enjoys playing with her two children, hanging out with her book club, moonlighting as an amateur artist, and cheering on her beloved Atlanta Braves.