There are times in every teacher’s life when things don’t work according to plan. At these times, we can feel isolated and wish someone was there to show us how to handle the situation. Stress is a common experience for both teachers and students, and having access to help is important.
Knowing your teaching team
A good starting point is getting to know your teaching team. In most faculties, the Unit Coordinatory/Leader or Course coordinator is the person supervising your work as tutor or demonstrator. Try to establish good working communication with this person. At the very least you should have email contact with them. Be proactive and contact them ahead of time if the relevant materials for the following week’s classes are not available.
Often there will be other sessional staff teaching in the unit who have valuable experience that they can share with you. If there are no weekly or fortnightly team meetings to discuss the classes you are expected to teach, suggest to the Unit Coordinator/leader that they be initiated.
The quality of the learning and teaching environment can benefit from discussing issues with colleagues who teach in the same area. Colleagues can help you when you are:
not sure how to go about teaching something that has been given to you;
thinking of trying a new idea/technique in class;
wanting to know more about the subject matter;
having difficulties when dealing with students.
Building a good working relationship with colleagues can lessen the isolation which is a common experience among sessional teachers. Those who take time to listen and help others also benefit. Not only do they ‘feel good’, but they often get a better understanding of why some things work and others things don’t in their teaching.
Handling difficult situations
Dealing with common difficulties should be discussed with your teaching team, so that you will have access to possible techniques when the need arises.
Here are some examples of difficult situations you may face in your class, and some suggestions for what you could do to overcome the difficulty.
If a student …
You can …
Talks loudly and dominates class discussion
Allocate a specific time for each person to respond and move on to the next person. If they ignore your instruction, listen for a short while and as soon as there is a pause (even a slight one), thank the person for their contribution, look at someone else in class and ask for their opinion.
Talks about things that have nothing to do with class work
Tell the class that you will be checking their work in 5 minutes (this will focus their attention). If the same students are talking in every class, suggest that they either finish their conversation before entering the class, or continue it after class, but try to do that without embarrassing them. Sometimes all you have to do is move visibly closer to the ‘talkers’ to stop their conversation. If a student approaches you to discuss personal problems, suggest sources for help.
Never says anything or remains silent most of the time
Use some of the questioning techniques introduced in Module 2 to encourage their participation.
Complains about the lecturers or other staff
Make it clear that you will not listen to complaints about lecturers or other staff. It is not professional. Focus on the issue (if they have one) and try to help in an appropriate way. If the issue is beyond your area of responsibility, suggest they consult their course coordinator/advisor or counselling service.
Argues all the time
If the student has a good point, recognise that (e.g. comment on it) and try to move on. Include others in class (choose those you know are not likely to argue with you). Ask if everyone in class has similar views.
Suddenly becomes angry
Try to remain calm (outwardly at least), even if the student insults you or uses rude words. Avoid raising your voice and be polite. The student’s anger may be a sign of fear, discomfort or lack of confidence to do the assigned task. Focus on the issue, not the person. If the student is aggressive and the situation starts to become unsafe for you or others in class, stop teaching and get help from colleagues or ring Security (Victorian Campuses 9905 3333 or ext 333; Sunway Campus 5514 6333 or ext 46333, South Africa Campus 950 4099 or ext 333
Supporting learning and teaching
Education at Monash is the main entry point to learning and teaching related online information. Like many universities, Monash has dedicated web pages for current staff and students. These sites show the variety of support services that are available. Some examples of support for you and your students are outlined below. You can get help when you need it, and you can direct students to the sites.
The Office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor (OPVCLT) provides resources and formal programs that help to develop and improve many aspects of teaching at Monash. Some of the resources/programs are for specific groups of teachers (e.g., Sessional Teaching Essentials Program for those who are employed on a casual/sessional basis, and the Graduate Certificate for Higher Education for others). You may be expected to become familiar with Monash University Studies Online (MUSO). The Learning and Teaching Showcase activities celebrate some of the achievements at Monash, and they help staff to exchange ideas on learning and teaching strategies.
You can also find discipline-specific support for teaching at the faculty, department and school levels. Some of the following faculty websites may be useful to you:
Business and Economics
Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences – Centre for Medical and Health Sciences Education (CMHSE) conducts programs to help clinical teachers.
The Learning and teaching support online resource has useful information for staff and students.
New students must adjust quickly to a teaching environment that is often different to their past educational experience (e.g. school). The following online resources can help students in their transition to the university.
– Adjusting to university life and Monash Transition
– Study skills and Learning skills advisers
– Monash Passport
The Library provides a range of resources and services, some of which are targeted for teaching and other for developing learning skills.