How to Prepare to Teach a College Course

You know the material.  Your syllabus is ready.  You are confident that you have prepared in every way possible.  But have you?  Are you ready for a good teaching experience?

Advice for New College Instructors – Be Prepared

One of the top ten complaints (don’t ask me for the other nine right now) that students lodge against their instructors is that they are not prepared.  I have offered teaching advice to new college instructors in the past.  The first item on my list of college teaching tips was to be prepared.  A question I have posed is, “Do Boy Scouts make the best instructors?

In previous articles, my emphasis has been on being prepared to teach.  June, 2010, I published “An Instructor’s Guide for the First Day of Class.”  Being prepared to teach was the first thing I advised.  In each case, the operative word was been teach.  Want more information?  Check out my resource at the right – Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis.

Why be prepared?  The reasons are obvious (or should be), but the consequences seem to be ignored by some instructors.  As a college instructor, you should ask, “Are student blaming their problems on you?”  Often, the answer is yes.  And often, the reason is that you were not prepared.

Note:  If you answered no, you are either the most exceptional college instructor to walk the face of this earth since or you are in denial.  I would hate to lose you as a reader, but if you are the former, God bless you.  Nice having you aboard.  If you are in denial, get over it!  If you answered yes and you are still reading, great!  I have the utmost confidence in you.

Why College Students Should Like Their Instructors

This was the title of an article I wrote in October, 2010.  I discussed how students react when they like their instructors.  In short, they enjoy the course more and are usually more motivated to learn.  Instructors enjoy their courses more too.

Perhaps, however, there is another reason students should like their instructors.  What, you ask?  If you like someone, you are much less likely to wage war against that person.  Wage war?  Students and their instructors don’t wage ware.  Their relationship is never warlike.  (Hold on!  I can see your eye rolling.  I can read your thoughts.  I hope you picked up on my sarcasm.)  Unfortunately, sometimes seem like war.

Difficult College Students Who Cause Problems

A short time after writing that article I became aware of problems two of my adjuncts were experiencing.  Both situations were sadly similar.  They each had students who contacted me to complain.  The complaints were similar.  Students did not question their instructors’ subject matter knowledge, but rather how they taught.  They also alleged that their instructors dealt with them disrespectfully.  They accused their instructors of demeaning them in front of the entire class.

Some instructors do not know how to deal with difficult students.

I tried to help my instructors.  After talking to both of them (now, I can’t divulge specifics) I learned that there were similarities in their situations.   In one way or another they each sent a strong message to students that they were not performing up to their standards and conveyed, unintentionally, their anger and disliking for some of the students.

When it comes to student/teacher problems, I have learned that there are always two sides to the story.  Often, students exaggerate or otherwise misrepresent their side of the issue.  In these two instances, however, I was convinced that there was some merit to the students’ complaints.  But it just didn’t fit with what I knew about these instructors.  I also concluded that the instructors had reason to be angry with a few of their students

In both cases my adjuncts reported that, in front of the rest of the class, a student had yelled at them and used profanity.  YIKES!!! OUCH!!!  Call the police!  These &*$^& students should be arrested!  College instructors deserve respect, and these types of behavior cannot be tolerated.

Wait, what did I just say?  Did I say that these types of behaviors cannot be tolerated?  Yes I did.   These aggressively disrespectful students were clearly at fault, but what about my instructors.  Did they actually tolerate these behaviors?  My conclusion was that they did.  🙁

Be Prepared for the Worst

Bottom line – there is more to preparing for the course you are teaching than lesson plans.  A college instructor should prepare mentally to deal with unacceptable student behaviors.  When caught off guard, unprepared instructors may respond inappropriately.  They may lower themselves to the level of their problematic students.  Don’t let that happen to you!

Ever watch a comedian deal with hecklers?  They have the quickest comebacks.  Sure, they are talented improvisation performers.  But you can bet they had prepared retorts and stored them in their bag of tricks.  A college instructor can do the same.  However, sometimes you may be at a loss.  You may not have prepared for that disrespectful attack.  Stop.  Think it through.  Then respond like this guy in the YouTube video entitled “Comic owns heckler, wins back crowd.”  😉

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Updated:  August 17, 2011



About Dr. Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

My name is Paul Hummel, and I often introduce myself to others as a recovering engineer. If you are familiar with the Dilbert cartoons, let me simply say that I lived all of that. I started my college saga at Illinois Institute of Technology. Eventually, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management. I worked for many years in industry, and during this time I did some college adjunct teaching. During my career I held several managerial positions in industry, the last as Director of Technology of a division of a Fortune 500 corporation. Then, in 1996, with minimal planning or forethought, I found myself working as a manufacturing consultant on behalf of Elgin Community College (ECC). My career in higher education began to take shape. I fell in love with ECC and with the mission of community colleges in general. I worked fulltime and occasionally taught college courses for my institution and two other colleges. After a couple years I set a goal to move over to the “credit side of the college” and eventually become a college administrator. In 2006, having earned my doctorate in education, I achieved that goal. I was hired by Waubonsee Community College as Dean for Technology, Mathematics and Physical Sciences. I have had the great fortune of working at two excellent colleges. The insights I want to share are drawn from the various college positions I have held. At ECC, in addition to my consulting role, I coordinated non-credit professional development training programs for three years and spent four years advising students in the TRiO Student Support Services program. That position helped me understand college education from the perspective of today’s college students. After seven years at Waubonsee, I retired April 30, 2013. I now devote my knowledge and skills to upgrading and expanding the websites I created beginning with Adjunct Assistance. I have three other websites: College Teaching Tips, Keys for College Success and Lighthouse for Learning. A lot of work lies ahead for me in terms of upgrading and expanding each of these websites, but I could not be more excited about fulfilling the vision I have for helping college instructors and their students succeed.

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