Just Breathe: 5 Tips for a First Time Professor


You just landed your first professor job. Congratulations! Now that the euphoria and fist-pumping have slowed down to a minimum, that slow-simmering terror sets in. Holy crap, you whisper to yourself. Because, chances are, though you love your subject, you probably know diddly-squat about actually teaching it. I know, my friend. I have been there.
I was asked by a friend if I had any tips for surviving that first harrowing semester. I’m happy to share. It will be ok, I promise.

 Please enjoy this clip from Elle’s first day of class: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZIonnMTLUA

1. Just breathe. That’s right. Take a deep breath and remember why you wanted to do this. YOU LOVE THIS SUBJECT. You studied it, took tests, wrote papers like nobody’s business, and worse yet–tortured people with the grisly details of obscure topics, knowing fully well they didn’t give a rip and now it’s your turn. Now, you are the expert. You’ve got this, Prof.
2. Fake it till you make it. I mean this sincerely. My first class I taught was terrifying. Picture this: 36 students, many of them sitting in their desks with their arms crossed. Nah, that’s not intimidating. And to add to the pressure? Two sign language interpreters, one on my left and on my right, poised and ready to physically elaborate on every “Um…uh…” that I uttered. Yes, this happened. So I decided right away that I had two choices: go down in a blaze of glory, or pretend like I have done this a million times. I took choice B. I put on an air of confidence and soon it was legitimate.
3. Wear lots of deodorant. However much you think you need, DOUBLE IT. I don’t know what it is about classrooms. Students are bundled up in parkas, wearing mittens and starting small fires in the back to stave off the frostbite and I’m sweating like a politician in front of St. Peter. Every single time.
4. Do an ice breaker. Have each of the students introduce themselves, and ask a question that will get them talking. This has 2 purposes: first, you don’t have to pronounce unfamiliar names (you can make notes to yourself when they say it) AND you can connect with the students. I usually ask fun questions like “What’s the worst movie you ever saw, and why?” People will usually open up after the initial shyness.
5. If you feel strongly about something, put it in your syllabus. Then, if problems come up later in the semester, you’ve got the law on your side. You’re like the freaking Sheriff in the Wild West of Academia. At least in your own class.

Don’t worry, Professor. It will be ok. You will make it through this and live to tell about it. Until then, stock up on Secret.