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Starting with a new class of students

One of the things that I always get really stressed out about is starting teaching a new class. This semester, I’m teaching Varieties of English (3rd year), Language and Social Identity (2nd year) and Describing Language (1st year), and although these are modules I taught last year, my 2nd year class has a lot of students who haven’t taken a class with me before. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of a new batch of students staring at you intently, waiting for you to pass on sacred reams of knowledge into their brains. The biggest thing I feel is ‘I hope I don’t make an idiot of myself’, and thus far, I seem to have succeeded. But because education is dialogic, my main hope is that we all get on. Students seem to learn better when they’re enjoying themselves and feel relatively comfortable with the lecturer, and I try my best to facilitate this through various means (normally involving food as a bribe). I also want my students to know that they can come and speak with me about any problems they’re having with the material, and I especially discourage them from struggling through anything by themselves for too long. Students who have been with me for a while and have taken a few classes with me know this, but I’ve noticed that it can take some time for new students to get to the same place as my more established students.

All of this boils down to how you build a rapport with students. How do you go about it as a lecturer, or what worked when you were a student?

Categories: University life Tags: ,
  1. Phil
    January 30, 2012 at 12:10 am

    I always try to treat students as fellow linguists from day one. The only reason I know a bit more than they do is because I’ve been around a bit longer than they have, and although we all realise that not everyone will become passionate about the same things that we love, I try as best as I can to break down any suggestion that there are barriers (of whatever kind) between the students and a full appreciation and understanding of the academic subject matter. It’s not about being their mate, but rather it’s about trying to be an accessible link between their own lived experience and the mysterious world of knowledge that perceive to be out there, somewhere, waiting to be discovered. This sense of mystery can be both a barrier and a incentive, and I try to make it the latter rather than former.

    The ‘students are inherently lazy’ discourse is something that I find particularly unhelpful, even though I would be lying to say that I have never indulged in that myself at certain moments during the last five years. In reality, students want to be inspired by both the people that teach them and the subject matter. In that connection, I’ve always refrained from giving students an easy introduction to a module. Uni isn’t easy, students don’t arrive expecting it to be easy, but this only becomes a barrier to learning if they perceive the support from the teaching staff to be lacking. Being that support is time-consuming, especially in small departments with heavy teaching and admin loads, but it is something that all of us will have to be with the changing face of the sector.

  2. January 31, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    Thanks for the comment Phil. I adopt a similar kind of approach in that I try and get students to think of themselves as researchers/linguists/academics. This gets them out of the mindset that they’re ‘just’ students and they’re passive participants in the learning process.

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