The terror of teaching outside the comfort zone

I’m teaching out of my comfort zone this semester and it’s a very scary place to be.

Hiding in one's shell is not an option

Hiding in one’s shell is not an option

After five years of teaching the same first-year business communications courses, I accepted a request to design a new writing course to help second-year Marketing students improve their writing and written-presentation skills.

It’s a huge challenge for me for several reasons:

  1. It’s the first time I’ve developed a new course from the top down.
  2. I’m trying to build upon the knowledge these students have already gained in previous business communications courses—that’s without having intimate knowledge of those courses.
  3. I’m dovetailing my course and one of my major assignments with another part-time teacher who I don’t know very well.
  4. It’s my first time teaching second-year students and I’m learning that their communications skills are generally more highly evolved than that of first-years. This means changing the way I deliver and develop my lessons and assignments.
  5. I’m a part-time teacher, so I have very limited extra time that I can spend reworking the original course I developed over the Christmas holidays, which now needs some tweaking as I learn more about my target audience and its needs.
  6. I have a huge class of more than 50 students, yet I have only 47 computer terminals in my classroom. At the same time, most of my current thinking around lesson delivery revolves around teaching class sizes of around 24 to 30 students.

That’s a big list of challenges, isn’t it? So you probably can’t blame me for being a little…terrified.

I love teaching

I love teaching

I love teaching. I love it because it satisfies my need to connect with people and to have impact in this world. If you were to ask me what’s the meaning of life, I wouldn’t hesitate with the answer: It’s to connect with the world and help make the world a better place.

I can confidently say that I’ve accomplished a little of both of these goals in my five years as a teacher. I’ve done that by helping students to become better communicators and by providing guidance outside of the classroom through my mentorship program and other initiatives.

Indeed, I am absolutely certain that almost every one of my first-year Advertising students is a better, more conscientious writer as a result of taking my Writing for Marketing course last semester.

It’s a fine claim to be able to make after five years on the job.

But now, suddenly in front of this sea of 50-plus faces in my second-year Communications for Marketing class, my five years of experience isn’t feeling like very much.

Fortunately, I’ve found a way to shrink the class and provide a more personal learning experience for students.

Many students in the class are already university or college graduates who are looking to specialize in marketing. It’s probable that their writing skills are already fairly highly evolved, so taking my course—which is meant to bring their writing to the level they’ll need to impress future employers—isn’t crucial to their success. In other words, they are probably already writing at close to a professional standard. There are probably other students who are simply superb writers who could essentially skip my class because of their ability.

Today everyone will write an in-class assessment to see who is already writing at close to professional level. Those students who achieve an A or higher will be exempt from my course. Those who don’t make that grade will receive a mark on the assessment that will be worth five percent of their grade.

I’ll have days of marking ahead of me as I review those 50-plus assessments, but I’m looking forward to seeing the class size winnowed so that I can start to get to know my students and so that I can provide them with a more personalized learning experience.

That doesn’t mean that I’ll have licked all of my challenges in teaching this new course. Far from it. It’s going to be a challenging semester—emotionally and intellectually.

I’m going to have to learn how to work effectively with second-year students. I’m going to have to find the time to tweak and re-tweak the course.

Ready or not, here I come

Ready or not, here I come

Most important, I’m going to have to deal capably with student frustrations around at least a limited amount of chaos that will result from the delivery of this completely new course.

I know that some students feel as if they’ve already learned the lessons that we did last week. The lessons were partly review from previous St. Lawrence College business communications courses to prepare them for today’s assessment. But they were also to ensure a level playing field so that students who had not taken all of the same courses would have a comparable chance at exemption.

I’m eager for next week to arrive so that I can teach to a smaller group and get at least one foot inside my comfort zone.

Or maybe just a toe or two.


About teachingteacher

Business communications instructor, journalist, corporate communications writer and media trainer ... and Masters Candidate M.Ad.Ed.
This entry was posted in adult education, Course design, Critical Thinking, Reflective Practice, Transformative learning and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The terror of teaching outside the comfort zone

  1. Kathy Patterson says:

    Can’t wait to hear the results of the assessment! Any predictions?

  2. I have no idea, Kathy. From checking out students’ work as they wrote yesterday, I’d say their formatting is generally good while their weakness is probably a tendency to write in generalities. One part of the assessment asked them to use a persuasive messaging technique (AIDA) or AIRRA (get Attention, develop Interest, Reduce Resistance, and call for Action) to argue why they should be exempt from the course.

    Many provided brief examples (e.g. some simply stated they already had university degrees); however, there was no connecting of the dots to explain to the reader the significance of that point within their argument for exemption. Some didn’t use AIDA or AIRRA at all. The marking begins in a few minutes.

    I’ll soon blog about the outcome and some of the other issues I’m facing with this experience.

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