Monday, February 25, 2013

Overcoming Teaching Stage Fright

I recently read a blog post from Hack Library School about overcoming teaching stage fright.  Many of us have been in teaching situations that we may not have necessarily been entirely comfortable with. Perhaps it is because you’re not as comfortable with the subject area as you would like to be; maybe it is because you’re using someone else’s lesson plan; maybe  it is because you haven’t had adequate time to prepare the lesson; or maybe it is simply because you haven’t had a lot of library instruction experience.  Whatever the reason, there are ways to become more comfortable teaching.  In the Hack Library School post, they mention the following:

  • Observe other instructors. 
  • Keep it simple. 
  • Make sure you have plenty of water.  
  • Find a mentor. 
  • Focus on successes. 

While I agree with their tips, I have a few others to add to the list.

Before you teach: 

  • Meet with the professor beforehand (in person if possible, otherwise email can work too) to clarify what you are expected to teach, what the students need, and how it connects to an upcoming assignment. Having this perspective will help you as you prepare your lesson. Get your lesson plan done early and share it with the class professor--they might be able to point out important things to cover or notice things that you’re including that the students might not need. This sharing also helps me review the lesson and get to know it and the session objectives even better.
  • Create an outline that works for you. Everyone’s style is different. Write a lesson plan outline that works for your style.  It’s important to remember that you’re not writing a script, however. Work to include enough detail that you feel confident with the content, but not so much that you just wind up reading it word for word to the class. Also, having too much on the page can make it more difficult to find your place after you've gotten off track.  
  • Plan more than you think you’ll need. Have a few extra examples up your sleeve to help reinforce the concepts if the students seem like they need the extra practice or if you somehow wind up with extra time at the end of your lesson.
  • But also know you won’t be able to cover everything under the sun (and the students won’t be able to absorb much of anything if you throw too much at them in one sitting). It’s okay (and important) to limit your session content to teaching just what students need for the project/assignment. 
  • Practice. This is one of the most important things you can do to become more comfortable leading a class. Don’t just practice by walking through a lesson in your head. Find yourself a willing audience (friends, colleagues, strangers you met on the street, whomever) and ask them for their honest feedback after they've observed you run through your lesson. You might have to promise them chocolate, but it’ll be worth it.  If at all possible, practice in the space you’ll be using so you can get used to the technology in the room, the acoustics, having to project your voice, moving around the space, etc. 
  • Work on timing. Timing is one of the hardest things for me when lesson planning. Estimate how long you think each task will take, walk through the tasks yourself (realizing it will take students more time than it takes you because they aren't as familiar with the resources and the process as you are), and ask friends to do a little trial run of an activity to get a better idea of the timing (again, promises of chocolate come in really handy). 
  • Do teaching warm-ups.  This wasn't something I had even thought of until I got to grad school and the head of Teaching and Learning talked about it during my Education of Information Users class. You warm up to sing; you warm up to get your body ready to play an instrument; you warm up to exercise; why wouldn't you warm up to teach? Teaching is very physical. Doing vocal warm-ups will help prevent voice fatigue; stretching will get the blood flowing and get your body ready to stand for an extended period of time (depending on the structure of your class); and taking the time to warm up and stretch will help you find your focus and mentally prepare to be leading a class. 
  • Write a basic lesson plan outline up on the board. It will help keep you on track and help the students know what to expect as you go along.

As you teach:

  • Find a teaching style that works for you. No two people teach exactly alike. It is great to have a mentor, it is wonderful to observe others teaching, but in the end you have to teach in a way that connects the students to what they need--Trying to be someone else gets in the way. You wind up thinking more about yourself rather than the students and their needs. It’s helpful to observe others teaching and borrow ideas, but you also need to modify them and make them your own. 
  • Record yourself as you practice your lesson and when you’re actually teaching. Along with practice, this is another one of the most important things you can do. Recording yourself will help you see how you teach, notice any verbal or physical nervous ticks, see how you work under pressure, and observe how you think on your feet when students ask questions or when the unexpected happens.
  • Be flexible. It’s okay to change things up as you go. Being flexible means you’re doing a good job being responsive to the needs of the class. Maybe you got off track in one area because a student asked a great question or because you could see the students weren't able to follow along. That’s perfectly fine! It’s authentic learning, trial and error, but don’t let that completely throw you off your game. You can jump back into your lesson plan to cover the rest of the content they need to be successful. 

These tips aren't all-inclusive, but hopefully you've found at least one thing that will help you feel more confident and comfortable in the classroom.

Is there something I missed? Comment below to share what you do to feel more comfortable in the classroom.

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