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Recently, I had an exchange with someone who was making the transition from doctoral student to assistant professor. One of the issues this person brought up was finding confidence – confidence in the decisions they were making, confidence to do (in their own work) what they understood to be best, and so on.
Our conversation made me remember how nervous I was teaching my first semester as an assistant professor. While I had taught undergraduate classes most semesters in my doctoral program, for some reason I was just anxious. And while that anxiety got better over time (with practice and as I get to know the institution better), it made me think about how we can word towards building our confidence as teachers.
Nothing will suck the confidence right out of you than not being prepared. Make sure your syllabus is intact and that you keep up with preparing for class each week. I recommend a few things here:
- Keep a teaching notebook of ideas to implement and reflections on how things are going.
- Create a mindful schedule for yourself that allows you to accomplish your planning and grading
I typically front-load my classes. This means that more readings and assignments happen at the start of the semester through the mid-point. From the mid-point on I taper off. I find that students do their best thinking and work at the start of the semester. Most classes have a lot of papers/projects/exams at the end. Students get stressed, and they can only do so much. So I pull back in terms of what I am asking them to do.
How does this support your confidence? First, your life is going to get crazy-busy towards the end of the semester too in lots of ways. You are likely going to be most on your game during that first half just like your students. As things ramp up towards the end, your class can be ramping down. This takes pressure off of you and gives you some breathing room. Class becomes more enjoyable. You are not stressed. This will contribute to your overall confidence throughout.
Students typically appreciate this approach.
Use Bonus Passes
I recently wrote about how I use bonus passes in my online classes. These passes come with a set of directions for students. What they do is allow you to bypass the role of judge and jury. You can make passes for anything you want. I mostly use them to allow students to extend deadlines for various reasons and in various ways. Because these passes exist, I do not have to adjudicate if a story is valid or not. If students have extenuating circumstances that require something more than the passes then I’m sure that’s when some additional, formal, documentation would be required on their part.
How does this increase your confidence? First, I think this is just a decent thing to do. Hopefully it helps you feel that you are doing right by your students. It also takes pressure off of you in terms of deciding what is/is not a valid.
Finding different ways to alleviate stress, for yourself and your students, will play a significant role in supporting your confidence as a teacher. For me, being prepared in terms of content and how you are teaching it is obviously important in developing and maintaining confidence. However, there are lots of little things along the way that you can do which will add up over time. Some of it is about what you do for you, and some is what you do for your students. Creating an environment where your students feel confident will in turn support your confidence as well.