Top Ten Ways to Set a Positive Tone in your Course
1. Expect that teaching a large lecture class will be time consumingbut realize that it’s a huge opportunity to
reach many individuals and send them off with a sense for the value of your subject. Your attitude and
demeanor will have as much to do with your success as any other single factor. Take the time needed to
do your homework (e.g., be fully prepared) and always treat students with respect.
2. Assume that all students in the class are capableand motivated, but do not assume they are necessarily
motivated to learn your subject. Do your best to show students why you’re excited about the subject and
to facilitate the level of learning that individual students want.But don’t force anyone to do the work
needed to get an A.
3. Always realize and be respectful of the fact that most students are extremely busy. Your class is likely
only a small portion of what’s on their plate. So, plan the total workload of your course accordingly and
within the University’s workload guidelines.
4. Write a comprehensive syllabus and do exactly what you say you will do. Do not make changes in
expectations, exam times, grading policies, etc. Such changes may make some students happy, but others
will feel that they could have managed their time differently had they known that the changes were
coming. They will feel that they have been placed at a disadvantage.
5. If you’re teaching a course with prerequisites (e.g., the second semester of a two-part service course),
know what’s contained in the prerequisites. Do not go beyond the knowledge that students are expected to
have and consider carefully whether or not some quick review might be necessary.Students will
appreciate your sensitivity to this.
6. The classroom should be a safe place. Never embarrass students in front of the class (or elsewhere), and
respect some students’ preference for anonymity.
(Something I would have in mind, but maybe not commit to print:Avoid harsh responses to student
contributions. This is hard to do, but try to find something helpful in what they have offered without
reinforcing misconception or incorrect knowledge.)
7. Carefully proof your exams. Errors are a distraction and will end up causing student frustration and
costing you time. Return exam results as soon as possible. Post answer keys and grade distributions so
students know where they stand. Do this promptly. Explain your grading system. Fairness and
transparency are key.
8. Tests should be at a level that makes students think and apply their knowledge, but students should not be
required to prove that they’re a genius in one hour, under pressure,crammed in a room full of other
students. Don’t assume that students understand the meaning of a curve. A 55 on an exam is
demoralizing, even if it is later labeled a B.
9. Realize that if a student wants to discuss his/her grades with you, that means that they care about your
class. Grading is part of ourbusiness, and students have a right to discuss their performance with you.
Don’t subconsciously classify them as “grade grubbers”.
10. If you have TAs, be sure to instill your attitude in them. TAs are often the front line in your interface with
students and they are inexperienced. Moreover, many have had bad experiences themselves and may
subconsciously try to emulate those responsible. If TAs are grading work, give them careful instructions
and create some kind of oversight and inter-rater reliability mechanism. Realize that students’ interaction
with TAs can have a large impact on their perception of your course.