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antikantian

How do you get over bad teaching days?

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Just a bit of a post to vent. Normally, everyone complements me on my lectures, presentations, etc. Yesterday, however, I was teaching an undergrad class, and it just didn't seem to go very well. Maybe it was a function of me being tired due to a bad night's sleep, I'm not sure. I prepared as per usual, and got through everything I wanted to cover, for the most part. Typically, I teach lecture style, but with occasional questions to engage students. This class, however, practically *all* of my questions were met with blank stares and silence. Mind you, the questions weren't hard, and anyone who even skimmed the text should have been able to at least say *something*. This kind of bothered me, and I guess I started getting really self-conscious; so I felt everything was very repetitive, and it led to me making a lot of changes on the fly to my lecture notes, which THEN led to me having to mentally assess the change as I was making it - which then led to short 1 or 2 second pauses (they feel like an eternity in front of 35 undergrads), which then... you get the idea. To make matters worse, someone walked out halfway through, and I guess that really made me even more nervous and anxious. Nothing really hangs on this bad day obviously, and I'm sure if anyone noticed (how could they not!?), they have since forgotten about it (hopefully).

Anyway, how do you get over such inevitable disasters?

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The next teaching day, just say something to them like: Last class was rough. I needed feedback from you guys and not getting any threw me off, which just made everything awkward. So, I'm sorry for a bad lecture day. We all have off days, so I'm going to assume you had one too. In the future, I expect you to be prepared to answer questions and if nobody answers I'm going to call on you directly. Something like that. That's what I would do.

I always own up to my mistake/issue because that lets them know I am human and that I care which makes me holding them accountable more palatable.

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I wouldn't even mention it, they probably didn't notice. Keep in mind it's the end of the semester for them, everybody is tired and burnt out.

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The next teaching day, just say something to them like: Last class was rough. I needed feedback from you guys and not getting any threw me off, which just made everything awkward. So, I'm sorry for a bad lecture day. We all have off days, so I'm going to assume you had one too. In the future, I expect you to be prepared to answer questions and if nobody answers I'm going to call on you directly. Something like that. That's what I would do.

I always own up to my mistake/issue because that lets them know I am human and that I care which makes me holding them accountable more palatable.

I definitely would NOT do this.

Just move on. Try your best to do a better job next time. Focusing on the bad really just makes you seem weak and uncertain. Being a teacher is like being the captain of a ship - You should always give the impression that you know what you're doing even when you don't.

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competely off topic (I apologize) but this thread title was cut off on the front page to say "How do you get over bad tea" and I came in wanting to know more!

To redeem myself I should offer something of value, but I've never taught. But I'll say that as a student, I've experienced a lot of TA/professor awkwardness and mishaps (inside-out clothing for example) but no one really cared or talked about them ever. Students are in their own little worlds. Sounds more like it was an off day for THEM since no one could answer the questions.

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Just a bit of a post to vent. Normally, everyone complements me on my lectures, presentations, etc. Yesterday, however, I was teaching an undergrad class, and it just didn't seem to go very well. Maybe it was a function of me being tired due to a bad night's sleep, I'm not sure. I prepared as per usual, and got through everything I wanted to cover, for the most part. Typically, I teach lecture style, but with occasional questions to engage students. This class, however, practically *all* of my questions were met with blank stares and silence. Mind you, the questions weren't hard, and anyone who even skimmed the text should have been able to at least say *something*. This kind of bothered me, and I guess I started getting really self-conscious; so I felt everything was very repetitive, and it led to me making a lot of changes on the fly to my lecture notes, which THEN led to me having to mentally assess the change as I was making it - which then led to short 1 or 2 second pauses (they feel like an eternity in front of 35 undergrads), which then... you get the idea. To make matters worse, someone walked out halfway through, and I guess that really made me even more nervous and anxious. Nothing really hangs on this bad day obviously, and I'm sure if anyone noticed (how could they not!?), they have since forgotten about it (hopefully).

Anyway, how do you get over such inevitable disasters?

Don't apologize. Just do things differently next time. In particular, if you want to get students talking, give them the opportunity to do so in small groups first, then in front of the larger group. This engages students and encourages active discussion since students don't have to risk embarassing themselves in front of the entire class. Put your questions up on the board (powerpoint, overhead, whatever), and ask them to discuss their responses in groups of 4-5. Then once they've had adequate time for small group discussion, ask one volunteer from each group to share a couple of the main points that their group discussed. This is Teaching Techniques 101. Trust me, it *always* works! ;)

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competely off topic (I apologize) but this thread title was cut off on the front page to say "How do you get over bad tea" and I came in wanting to know more!

ME TOO! I love tea!

OnT:

In my case, I experiment on different teaching styles for every class and see where they respond best. If I have a bad teaching day now, I'll try a different approach the next time.

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I've never been a TA before but I've given training lectures to newhires and interns at my company who have met me with plenty of blank stares. I've found that one way to deal with them is to say "raise your hand if this makes sense" because it forces some action on their part if they're ok. Not that it's fool proof, but it can help sometimes.

That may not help deal with a bad day, but it came to mind. I'm nervous and somewhat excited about teaching for the first time this fall. Good luck.

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Don't apologize. Just do things differently next time. In particular, if you want to get students talking, give them the opportunity to do so in small groups first, then in front of the larger group. This engages students and encourages active discussion since students don't have to risk embarassing themselves in front of the entire class. Put your questions up on the board (powerpoint, overhead, whatever), and ask them to discuss their responses in groups of 4-5. Then once they've had adequate time for small group discussion, ask one volunteer from each group to share a couple of the main points that their group discussed. This is Teaching Techniques 101. Trust me, it *always* works! ;)

This is great advice. While teaching, there were some times where I could ask questions on the fly to the class as a whole and have students be very on top of their game that they will engage in a great discussion right away. A lot of the time though, I'd do as Andsowego suggested and would have questions prepared for them to answer in groups before sharing as a class. And yeah, you're going to remember your bad day way more than they will! If they seem glassy-eyed one day, it doesn't mean they will be the next.

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I'm inclined to agree with what most have said here. Don't apologize for anything, and move on with it. In all likelihood, the students didn't think twice about it. As a preformer (yes, I think teaching is, in a sense, performing), you're allowed to make mistakes...just try to avoid showing them.

Also, what Andsowego said about putting them into smaller groups is good advice...esp. since you're in philosophy. Due to all the misconceptions and presuppositions many undergrads hold about philosophy (that it's too hard, too complicated, etc.), many of them feel very self-conscious about bringing up ideas in class. Getting them to break into smaller groups first to discuss the topic(s), and then to address the class at large will not only help/force them be more talkative that day, but encourage them to bring up questions on their own in the future.

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I'd consult the responses to the questionnaire I distributed to students at the beginning of each class and collected at the end of class. While the response rate was always much less than desired, the feedback I'd receive would be helpful for getting back on track for the next section (even if it was a different section later the same day).

IMO, a graduate student should probably not apologize to undergraduates for an off day. While the intent behind such an apology is honorable, the gesture has the ability to backfire in a big way. (Undergraduates using the apology to argue for an undeserved break on a graded assignment, to bolster an argument about a TA's "incompetence," and to rationalize tuning out the entire course even more.)

If a graduate TA's teaching plan goes bad, he/she can make things right by clarifying things at the beginning of the next class meeting, or by distributing a hand out, or by holding extra office hours, or by giving additional guidance on the next graded assignment.

My $0.02/YMMV.

Edited by Sigaba

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I definitely would NOT do this.

Just move on. Try your best to do a better job next time. Focusing on the bad really just makes you seem weak and uncertain. Being a teacher is like being the captain of a ship - You should always give the impression that you know what you're doing even when you don't.

I agree with this advice. Do not apologize! As others have mentioned, it may backfire (I know from personal experience with high school students).

As for how to get over it... just remember that every day is a new day. Give yourself a break. Do something that you enjoy.

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This past spring, I was leading a discussion section that was completely DEAD. The students were responsible for doing the week's readings and coming in with questions/comments, as always, but that day they all seemed really unprepared. I told all the students to close their eyes, except one whom I chose randomly. I also closed my eyes. Then I told the students to raise their hands if they'd done the readings, and asked the student with her eyes open to count the raised hands. As I had suspected, there were only one or two raised hands. So I chided them a bit, reminded them that the point of the discussion section is for them to critically engage with the course material rather than passively listening to me recite it for them, and sent them on their way 20 minutes before the scheduled end of class, saying "I expect better next week." They did shape up and do the readings, not only for the next week, but for the remainder of the semester.

The whole close-your-eyes, raise-your-hands technique was completely off the cuff, but it worked in this case!

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Always remember still that no matter what happens you are still the teacher and they are the student. Don't worry about that rare situation it just happened once and don't be so disappointed. Just be more prepared next time and forget all your worries. I'm sure you will do good as time goes by. Just be confident in front of them and always show them that you are superior but at the same time respect them as well by giving them their proper share in your class.

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I wouldn't worry that much, and I would tell the person who got up to walk out to sit down. Don't apologize. If class is a little dead is more likely lazy students than yourself. Not that any of us are perfect, but in my experience, it is really hard to tell which day students are going to be engaged or not. I have had weeks where I was super excited and the students were lackluster, and classes with great discussion when I didn't find the material that great.

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This past spring, I was leading a discussion section that was completely DEAD. The students were responsible for doing the week's readings and coming in with questions/comments, as always, but that day they all seemed really unprepared. I told all the students to close their eyes, except one whom I chose randomly. I also closed my eyes. Then I told the students to raise their hands if they'd done the readings, and asked the student with her eyes open to count the raised hands. As I had suspected, there were only one or two raised hands. So I chided them a bit, reminded them that the point of the discussion section is for them to critically engage with the course material rather than passively listening to me recite it for them, and sent them on their way 20 minutes before the scheduled end of class, saying "I expect better next week." They did shape up and do the readings, not only for the next week, but for the remainder of the semester.

The whole close-your-eyes, raise-your-hands technique was completely off the cuff, but it worked in this case!

Thanks... I like this suggestion.

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This past spring, I was leading a discussion section that was completely DEAD. The students were responsible for doing the week's readings and coming in with questions/comments, as always, but that day they all seemed really unprepared. I told all the students to close their eyes, except one whom I chose randomly. I also closed my eyes. Then I told the students to raise their hands if they'd done the readings, and asked the student with her eyes open to count the raised hands. As I had suspected, there were only one or two raised hands. So I chided them a bit, reminded them that the point of the discussion section is for them to critically engage with the course material rather than passively listening to me recite it for them, and sent them on their way 20 minutes before the scheduled end of class, saying "I expect better next week." They did shape up and do the readings, not only for the next week, but for the remainder of the semester.

The whole close-your-eyes, raise-your-hands technique was completely off the cuff, but it worked in this case!

This is a very good approach. As a high school teacher, I also found that often it was because they hadn't done their reading/HW.

I also use the Socratic method... I make sure to call on every student at least once each day, ask a couple of questions (one builds on another) and I don't let them get "out" of answering a question. Make them accountable.

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You do your best to find out what went wrong, try to fix it and then accept the craft of teaching takes time to learn.

 

 

Having a bottle of vodka every now and then doesn't hurt either.

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