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.

An Open Letter to Students from Your Professor: 10 Tips for Surviving Those Final Days


Dear Student,
It’s that time again…finals! I know this is hard to believe, but I was once a student too. I would like to extend some tips to keep you sane during this trying time of the semester.
1. Breathe. Everything that has to be done will be done, unless it’s just too late. In that case…
2. Get plenty of sleep. Pulling an all-nighter rarely works. If you haven’t studied before now, it is probably too late. Try to remember this angst-filled moment next semester so you don’t end up in the same place.
3. Don’t send panicked, rude emails to your professor, especially about your grade. She’s stressed out as well, and it won’t help your case in the end anyway. It’s too late to ask to make up the quiz you missed in January.
4. Do review your lecture notes and text with friends…sober friends. Studying in groups does help many people, just skip the Cuervo. Not that you drink, right?
5. Your professor does want you to do well. We are REALLY not “out to get you.” It’s not our favorite thing to sit around in the teacher’s lounge, drinking Red Bulls and cackling maniacally as we scribble all over your essays with red pens. If a lot of students are failing the class, it reflects on us as well. We are here because we loved our subject enough to spend hours researching and reading and studying, and because we want to share it with you. It makes us geekily giddy when a student does well, especially if the student has been struggling.
6. Many college and university professors, especially adjuncts, get paid less than you think and receive little to no benefits, so it should be clear that we are here only because we want to be. Trust us enough to talk to us if you are behind early in the semester. Of course there are good and bad teachers, just as there are good and bad people, but I promise we’re not there to cash our huge check and ride off into the sunset in our convertible Ferraris.

7. Just because your professor seems laid-back and friendly is not an excuse to behave like a giant spitwad. We still expect your assignments to be done as well as you do for the drill sergeant teacher. Just remember: under the exterior of every “easy” teacher is a drill sergeant just waiting to emerge, like a pimple. Don’t be the one to pop that pimple, dude.

8. If you did find your class this semester to be an easy one, don’t call it a “blow-off” or “easy A” either in print or on Ratemyprofessor.com. That’s just insulting to both the professor and the students who struggled. In addition, it only hurts your peers who take the class next time. Maybe the professor has a kind heart and just wanted to help you.

9. We do care about you–and we are listening, even when you don’t think we are. Many nights we worry about you, and pray for you. For some reason, some students believe that professors are invisible until they begin teaching, so they freely talk about the wild party they attended last weekend, professors they hate and think are stupid, or who slept with whom. Just because I am not engaging in the conversation doesn’t mean I didn’t hear you.

10. Keep in mind, most professors know one another at least in a casual way…and we do talk. Also, I will be less enthusiastic when you ask me for a letter of reference. That’s just the way it is.


Your Friendly Professor