Monthly Archives: September 2014

Advice for New Teachers: Striving for Balance

When Jacob and I sat down to talk yesterday, I could see that he had on his desk a stack of papers to grade. With the first two weeks of classes behind us, we have both given quizzes–quizzes that must be graded. I realized that we needed to talk about balance–specifically, balance between his professional and personal life.

The first time teaching a course in your first teaching position, you clearly are eager to prepare thoroughly for every possible contingency for every lesson. This shows that you are conscientious and hard-working and are striving to be a professional–very laudable. However, if you have a family–like Jacob–you cannot simply be a full-time teacher. You have responsibilities to your spouse and children, and these take time and your physical and emotional presence. Strive to strike a healthy balance between the two. You may have many different teaching positions in your life; however, you have only one family, and it needs daily tending. There will be times when most of your energy must be devoted to your professional life; however, there are also times when your family will need all of you–physically, mentally, and emotionally.

In practical terms, this means you must use judgment in assigning homework and conducting assessments, all of which take time to grade. Space these out over the semester so that you have several days between them to grade them properly. For major assessments (e.g., tests) you may not be able to grade them completely until the weekend. Better to assign less and grade them rigorously than to assign more and give only superficial feedback to your students.

I finished our talk by telling him that I never get a course right the very first time through. During that first run, I am trying to read all the material carefully, summarize the readings, and fashion good–perhaps not perfect–lesson plans. It generally takes me three times through a course before I have the syllabus and lesson schedule the way I like it. Individual lesson plans are always a “work in progress.” A teacher should always be ready to try new ideas and formats to achieve the objectives of the lesson.


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Advice for New Teachers: Lesson Plan Format

In my last post I described the most important issue a teacher must face when organizing a course. In contrast to that strategic advice, Jacob and I met today to discuss the format of a good lesson plan. This year we are both teaching courses within the general field of Humanities and Religion.

I began  by repeating what I had already told him. A new teacher is often so concerned about preparing for every possible question in class that midnight may come , and yet he or she still has not formulated a lesson plan. Eventually the background reading must come to an end, and the teacher must decide on the specific activities for class the next day: how the teacher will use the class time.

This is the lesson plan format I have developed over many years which I gave to Jacob.  The main components:

Aids (What things do you need to bring to class, such as, a Power Point, visual aids, maps, music selections, and books)

Admin (Such as quiz and test reminders, general info announcements, classroom procedure)

Next time (Briefly remind the students of the next lesson; highlight any important info)

Review (Review the key points from the last lesson. Ask some pointed questions. Clear up any fuzzy areas on key points.)

Overview: (Preview the important points, concepts, and themes of the lesson. This component of the lesson plan should be prepared after the entire lesson plan is prepared, not at the beginning. Look at the entire lesson plan and ask: If I had only five minutes to teach this class, what would I say and do?)

MAIN BODY: If a Power Point is to be used, place prompts in the appropriate places in the lesson plan to synchronize your plan with your power point.



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Advice for New Teachers: Jacob’s First Day

As I have grown older, I have drawn ever more pleasure from helping young, inexperienced teachers. In this–my last year of teaching at Portsmouth Abbey School–I have begun to mentor a fine young teacher. Let’s call him Jacob.

A few days ago before classes began, I found Jacob–wide-eyed, eager, and a bit anxious–in the classroom we will share this year, preparing for his first day of teaching. Immediately and without hesitation,  I realized that I had decided to mentor this young man, a reflection of what I was as a young lieutenant many years ago, having just graduated from West Point. This then was my first piece of advice for Jacob.

The most fundamental decision a teacher must make is to answer these three questions: By the end of the course:

What do I want my students to know, in terms of content or subject matter?

What do I want my students to be, in terms of attitudes or habits of mind?

What do I want my students to be able to do, in terms of intellectual skills?

The answers to these seminal questions should guide everything a teacher does in the course.

It would be great if a teacher could comprehensively and precisely answer these questions before he or she teaches the first class. This is ideal. In reality, the first time teaching a course a teacher may formulate answers to these questions; however, it is only after the first–or even second time–teaching the entire course, that he/she is truly comfortable with the answers. I told Jacob that it generally takes me three times teaching a course to get right.

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