In this blog, Dr Rob Daley gives advice on taking the first steps in university teaching and introduces the range of resources and developmental support offered by the LTA to those new to teaching at Heriot-Watt University.

Preparing for one’s first class as a teacher in university can be a complex emotional experience. New teachers commonly experience a mixture of excitement, pride and fear. Whether as a doctoral student or a new lecturer, getting to the point where you are being put in charge of the learning for a group of students is both an honour and a responsibility. It is a clear recognition of your expert knowledge and confidence in your wider skill set that you will do a reasonable job of it. It is also a step into the unknown and that brings concerns and fears. Taking this first step during a global pandemic makes it that bit more challenging!

Common fears amongst new teachers are:

  • Will the students understand me?
  • Will I be able to answer their questions?
  • Are my slides clear enough?
  • How will I know if they are learning?

These are all valid questions and ones that you should be asking yourself, but help is at hand to ensure that you can arrive at positive answers to these questions.

If you are taking your first class tomorrow, then the first thing to do is take a deep breath… and do so again at every point in the class when you are feeling anxious.

Further advice includes:

  • Trust in your subject knowledge and skills, you would not be in this position if you did not have an appropriate level of subject knowledge.
  • If faced with a question, or are seeking to provide a different explanation of some element of the course content, then take time to consider what you are going to say rather than rush into a half-prepared response.
  • Be prepared to admit that you do not know the answer… but agree to check it after the class and relay it back via Canvas (the VLE) or in the next session.
  • Have a clear plan for your session and plan for things to take longer than you expect.
  • If teaching online, ensure that you have a good understanding of how to use the basic tools of system through which you are teaching. (Microsoft Teams, Collaborate Ultra etc.)
  • If you have time, have a look at In at the Deep End”, which is full of advice and guidance for a number of different aspects of teaching.

There is a wide range of developmental support available to new teachers at Heriot-Watt. The recommended starting point is “Getting Started with Teaching”, a pair of online workshops introducing some of the basic skills and approaches that will help ensure that your student have a positive learning experience. This runs regularly during the academic year and further details can be found on the LTA website. We also offer a “New to Teaching Network”. This is an opportunity for new teachers across the University to meet regularly (every 4-6 weeks) along with a member of the Learning and Teaching Academy (LTA) and discuss elements of their teaching. This network provides a source of peer advice and guidance as well as the expert input from the LTA.

The LTA also provides a range of resources to support you in your teaching activities. The Supporting Student Learning Online (SSLO) Toolkit will provide you with all you need to know to get started in online teaching.

The Responsive Blended Learning resources provide further advice and guidance on elements of online teaching as well as how to best blend online and face-to-face learning actives.

Further support is available through the digital education resources and through a variety of webinars and masterclasses offered by the LTA. Details of these can be found on the LTA events page.

Once you have survived your first few classes and have decided that you want to further develop your teaching practice, you may wish to engage in our Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning (PGCertTL).  You can elect to undertake just the first course, Learning about Learning, which will take 1 semester and leads to Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (AFHEA), or to complete all four courses of the PGCertTL and gain Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA).

In the meantime, we advise that you keep calm and wish you well in your early teaching activities.


Image by @thisisengineering on Unsplash.