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Teaching Assistantship 101: What You Need to Know

STAGE FRIGHT

Not everyone is a natural-born public speaker. And a classroom of students—for many of whom your class fulfills a requirement—may not be the most engaged audience, which can make the most outgoing person slightly unnerved. The best way to combat pre-class jitters is obvious and important: Prepare and practice. Develop a lesson plan that includes an outline of talking points that you'll cover in class. (While you want to prepare exactly what you'll discuss, you don't want to read entirely from notes.) Practice your talking points at home—even in front of a mirror and using a tape recorder or video recorder to become aware of (and work at eliminating) any speaking tics you may have. The more you practice, the more comfortable you'll seem in front of the classroom. Practicing also gives you a sense of how much time it takes to cover any particular subject. Another tip: It helps to move around when speaking in front of a group. You'll burn off nervous energy and appear livelier. Note, though, that combining a suddenly quieter speaking voice with a focused physical stillness subtly but firmly grabs attention and asserts your higher status as teacher. It can be a powerful secret weapon.

Not everyone is a natural-born public speaker. And a classroom of students—for many of whom your class fulfills a requirement—may not be the most engaged audience, which can make the most outgoing person slightly unnerved. The best way to combat pre-class jitters is obvious and important: Prepare and practice. Develop a lesson plan that includes an outline of talking points that you'll cover in class. (While you want to prepare exactly what you'll discuss, you don't want to read entirely from notes.) Practice your talking points at home—even in front of a mirror and using a tape recorder or video recorder to become aware of (and work at eliminating) any speaking tics you may have. The more you practice, the more comfortable you'll seem in front of the classroom. Practicing also gives you a sense of how much time it takes to cover any particular subject. Another tip: It helps to move around when speaking in front of a group. You'll burn off nervous energy and appear livelier. Note, though, that combining a suddenly quieter speaking voice with a focused physical stillness subtly but firmly grabs attention and asserts your higher status as teacher. It can be a powerful secret weapon.

Along with talking points, include time for questions from students—be sure to have some of your own prepared as a way to engage a quiet class. Mix up lectures with other tasks such as free-writing exercises and student-involved activities (and have extra activities to draw from in the event that your class starts to become restless). Have students break into peer groups and collaborate on answering a set of questions or completing an assignment. This is also a good way to separate students who pay more attention to one another than to you. Remember to bring classroom exercises back to the day's lesson plan. And be sure to end the class with a reminder of what's expected of your students at the next meeting.

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Teaching Assistantship 101: What You Need to Know (November/December 2008)
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