Advice for new teachers

Key advice to support your teaching journey.

The consensus among experienced teachers is that good teaching takes years to develop and requires a lot of work, even for the best teachers. None of the top teachers felt they started out as a top teacher—they had to work hard at it, and they still do: preparing for each class, finding new readings, new examples, keeping it fresh, attending teaching courses and conferences.

Teaching takes practice

  • To become a good teacher takes a lot of practice, confidence with the material and public speaking, as well as a willingness to learn.
  • Good teaching is a process which takes time to develop with ideas and individual techniques refined over time. It's generally accepted that you can't be a good teacher straight away—So don't feel overwhelmed. Relax!
  • Teachers commented on being scared and nervous at the beginning, but they gradually learned coping strategies and increased their confidence in public speaking.
  • When you are not confident, you tell students everything because you don't know it properly yourself. Teaching the material more than once helps increase confidence in the material and enables you to pick out what is important.
  • Realise that most academics know more than they think.
  • Teachers commented on initially using powerpoint as a prop and standing behind the lectern. However, subsequent course preparation and reflection allowed the opportunity to re-cut the course and present the relevant material in more interesting and engaging ways (introducing videos, guest speakers and case studies).
  • It takes time, and trial and error to find out what works for you. Discard unhelpful techniques or content, and find alternative and complementary ways of covering essential material.
  • It takes time to grow into your own character and develop a teaching persona. Find something you are passionate about and share this with your students.
  • Make good use of educational opportunities to improve your teaching. Open your mind to feedback and adjust accordingly.

“I'm still nervous going into a classroom, so that hasn't changed. But, I think initially I wasn't as confident with the material as I would have liked.”—Teacher with 8 years experience

Judy Brown with students

“People used to say to me: ‘Teaching comes naturally for you!’ But, it's the complete opposite. I was very nervous. That's what led me to do so much preparation, which, in turn, gave me the confidence.”—Judy Brown

Lessons for new teachers

  • Even if you leave in tears after giving a lecture, it is not permanent. It is all fixable. Learn from mistakes. You can get to at least an acceptable position fairly quickly and over time, you may turn into a star.
  • After a few years, you can take even the shyest PhD graduate from a diffident teacher to ‘Oh my, this is great!’. It is just a matter of plugging away and getting help from mentors and other learning institutions.
  • It has to be an interesting personal challenge to want to improve your teaching.
  • Teaching is not a precise science. You can't know it all. Even a professor only has limited expertise with the literature. As long as you have a grasp of the fundamental areas of your discipline, which all good academics have, back yourself with that. Then be willing to launch yourself into space. Be open to questions where you are not sure of the answers. It's better to take a small risk in teaching than to portray yourself as having an unequivocal grasp of the subject.
  • It's okay to ask for help. Find a good teacher to be your mentor.
  • Become friends with the technical staff and learn how to use all the equipment.
  • Have a backup plan for each lecture or activity.
  • Try using informal feedback—Download the Centre for Academic Development guidelines (PDF 2.5 MB).

Lessons for all academic staff

  • University is a learning organisation and needs to share more of its ideas among staff.
  • Established teachers should help new lecturers and support mentoring.