Monday, May 08, 2006

Terrified of Teaching

The Lugubrious Lycanthrope writes…

I will only be applying to schools with good financial aid, and that means: teaching. But the idea of standing in front of a class of undergrads (or anyone, for that matter) makes me nervous. Really nervous. Is this a common problem? Any advice on how to prepare myself?

Yes LL, it’s a common problem. Any kind of public speaking tends to terrify people. If you’ve got your own class then hey: you’re in charge for an hour and a half twice a week, and if you don’t get it done, no one will.

I’ve got all sorts of advice about teaching in the book. So look in the final chapter for that.

In regards to your question: if I were you I’d do some volunteer work this summer in your community that would involve teaching-like aspects. Or, do it for profit through tutoring or the like. And I’d read some books on teaching as well, just to familiarize yourself with the kinds of things that will come up.

I really love teaching, and I did from the first moment I was ever in charge of a class. Even though I was terrified at the time. I’ve been doing it for eight years now, and while I don’t get terrified, I still get nervous. So I work hard on my preparation, I’m clear about my expectations for students, and I use my own personality as a strength in the classroom instead of trying to cover up for it.

I’d really appreciate anyone’s suggestions on books about teaching. I’m outside my house now and not near my bookshelves. I’ll add some soon.


Anonymous said...

Hey LL,

I haven't taught in a classroom, but I've done a lot of tutoring with high-needs students, and I've found that the best thing is always to be a) prepared in terms of curriculum and b) an accessible human being. Establish boundaries and expectations right away, and then just be yourself: kids can sense when you are being honest and forthright and respectful and they will repay you with the same. Humor is always a great weapon, and this doesn't mean you have to be the funniest person on the face of the planet, it just means that if you can take things with a grain of salt, your students will as well. Something I've learned is that you can absolutely fake self-confidence, as long as you are prepared for the subject matter at hand. You might be shaking in your boots but if you know what you are doing that day, you have structure, and that's when you get the room to improvise.

Also, this might be a way for you to narrow down programs: emphasize schools which provide a decent period of teaching orientation and training. Some programs offer better pedagogy support than others...

Anonymous said...


Speaking as formerly the world's most anxious teacher to-be: you can do it!!! The worst part is waiting for the first day of class. After that, your passion for writing and reading will kick in, the students will respond to that, and you'll start enjoying the act of helping other people learn things. Any residual nervousness will drive you to keep working on your teaching strategies -- and that will make you even more effective in the classroom. Teachers who aren't at least somewhat nervous are teachers who might not care as much as the students would like. Books: I would suggest reading Harry Wong's *The First Days of School* -- it's addressed to primary/secondary teachers, but you may find the unholy mixture of motivational speech and very practical teaching strategies strangely comforting. Good luck!

Julia said...

Yes, I agree with the comment that being prepared is almost everything. When I was a beginning teacher, I also found that I had to step outside of what I perceived to be myself sometimes and go on stage with a willingness to say no to what I didn't like, and that was anything that disturbed the education of others. There's a lot to be said for nipping in the bud. Also remember to give them some of what they really love - themselves.