A back to school tip for aspiring teachers and academics

If you’re confused in school now, you can use that confusion to become a better teacher later. You can write detailed notes about what you’re confused about and and why. Doing this may help you to figure things out now, and it will definitely help you to teach well in the future. 

Teaching is hard, and teaching beginners is often harder. Knowing a subject well isn’t the same as knowing how to teach it. Teachers need to be able to explain things in a way that will make sense to beginners. They also need to be able to figure out why students are getting confused, and find ways to help them understand. This is much easier said than done.

Right now, you’re probably confused about some things that will feel completely obvious in a year or two. Many things that are hard to master feel completely natural once you’ve learned them. It can be hard to understand why something that has come to feel completely natural to you is confusing to your students.

As a student, you’re likely confused about your subject; as a teacher, you are likely to be confused about your students. If you write down what you’re confused about as a student, you will be doing your future self a huge favor. The notes themselves may be helpful when you teach. Beyond that, writing notes about yourself as a student can help you to start thinking from a teaching perspective. The sooner you get into the habit of thinking about your subject with teaching in mind, the better off you’ll be in the long term.

Tl;dr If you’re confused in school, you can use your confusion to be a better teacher in the future. Consider writing down what you are confused about and why. In the future, you will have students who are confused. Understanding your own confusion now can help you to understand theirs later.

Interactions with instructors

Anonymous said to :

Hi, do you know anything about student-professor interaction? I’m one of those students that stops by a professor’s office to talk and strikes up conversations on the way back to class very often. Is this OK? I’m not so good at reading social queues and I don’t know if I would know if said professor wasn’t OK with it, or if it was inappropriate. I’m not doing it for a good grade or academic advantages; I just like the conversations a lot.

realsocialskills said:

It’s ok to go to a professor’s office to talk to them during office hours; that is what office hours are for. It’s not ok to show up unannounced outside of office hours. If you want to talk to them outside of office hours, you have to make an appointment first. For most professors, the right way to do that is by emailing them and asking if they have time to meet with you.

If there are other students waiting to speak to the professor during office hours, be mindful of the fact that they also need to talk to the instructor. Wrap up the conversation in an amount of time that will make it possible for them to get a turn too (particularly if the conversation you want to have isn’t time-sensitive). 

It’s usually ok to strike up conversations after or on the way to class, but only up to a point. If they say that they need to do something, don’t keep chatting; take that as a sign that the conversation needs to end for now. Also, don’t try to follow them into their office.

tl;dr It’s ok to talk to professors during office hours. Don’t come by without an appointment at other times. 

Anyone else want to weigh in? Instructors - what kind of contact do you welcome from students? What is unwelcome. Which cues do you wish your students picked up on when you are trying to end conversations?