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Steven R. Van Hook

Ten Steps to Better Teaching
Two handfuls of tactics can help a new teacher make the grade.
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 by Steven R. Van Hook, PhD

Steven R. Van Hook, PhDSo, you've selected a textbook, scoured the publisher-supplied disc for usable materials,  prepared your detailed lesson plan and syllabus, crafted your lecture notes and PowerPoint slides, and arrived early for your first day of class.

In walk the students, glancing at you appraisingly and expectantly. And it's on with the show. Now what?

Here are a few tried-and true tips for those all-important first moments of a course setting the classroom culture and expectations, that if done well could help surf you through the term on solid footing.

1) Show respect for the students. Recognize within them the seeds of greatness they possess.

2) Demonstrate your dedication to the subject matter. As the old adage goes, "I can't care what you know, until I know that you care."

3) Address learning styles. Individual students have a variety of methods they learn best by, and the more styles you bring to the room, the better you can accommodate the diversity. 

4) Personalize the class. Learn the students' names using association tricks, and discover which students can be called on in a pinch to stimulate discussions, and which ones squirm in agony preferring to avoid too much attention.

5) Be accessible and approachable. Put as much energy into the before- and after-class interactions as the class session itself.

6) Ask engaging questions regularly: "So, what do you think of that?" or "Can you suggest other examples?" often stimulate student participation.

7) Use PowerPoint well. Not as something to read from the screen, but with graphics, photos, video and audio clips that support the lecture materials.

8) Use contrasting textbooks. For a course in global economics, I might use a dry standard econ textbook, augmented with an informatively light book such as Randy Epping's "A Beginner's Guide to the 21st Century Economy."

9) Deal with problems (and problem students) while the issues are small. Here's an article on dealing with disruptive students

10) Seek mentors and models to emulate, while developing your own unique approach to the teacher's craft.

These are not necessarily the top ten tips, but they are a useful if small sampling of tactics an instructor should carefully pack each session in the effective teacher's kit.

Steven R. Van Hook has been an educator for colleges and 
universities in the United States and abroad for more than a 
decade, teaching in traditional, online, and hybrid classrooms, 
and developing more than a dozen different courses.  

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