Monday, January 17, 2011

Practicing and preparing for a new term

How do you prepare for a new term? I'm not referencing the syllabus revisions or the text book reviews--I mean the mental preparation for the time you spend in front of your student audience. Do you have rituals or practices you follow to begin teaching successfully each term?

I attended a conference last October where a presenter noted taking a little time to physically practice her teaching by walking around spaces in her classroom and beginning the semester by examining clothing choices and appropriateness for the classroom. Presenter Dr. Ann Marie Coats from the University of South Florida reported on her research, "Strong and comfortable shoes: The role of appearance in the performance of the confident professor" and I was surprised to hear that some of my "nervous pre-semester have-to items" that I considered quirky are more common than I ever suspected. Some of us mentally rehearse while others of us use a form of physical practice that involves the space around us, but many of us do consider and plan for our time in front of students. I do several things before a new semester starts:

1 - I always visit each assigned classroom space and sit in several different seats,
2 - I check the white board use with several different colors of dry erase markers and remove those that appear too light or bright to be seen from the back of the room from my bag o' markers,
3 - I, like Dr. Coats, consider what to wear. I add layers (tank tops) under blouses that might reveal too much when I lean over a desk to help a student or I consider movement ("If I reach up to write on the board will this blouse/jacket/pants combo reveal anything?") and I am always on the search for shoes that are comfortable but "responsible" for my time in front of the class. I "test" this in front of a mirror,
4 - I mentally rehearse my time with the students by examining how I will open the first several classes, how I will remember student names (something I find is incredibly important for the connection I want to build the first few weeks of the course), and where/how I will move about the room
5 - I spend an evening reviewing some of my journals from my Freshman and Sophomore years at Purdue. This helps me remember that students are not always used to the higher education classroom and reminds me of what I used to enjoy/dislike about my 100- and 200-level professors and classmates while I was an undergraduate.

These little rituals always made me feel a bit insecure--as if I had to amp myself up to teach. After hearing Dr. Coats' research last Fall at the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language and Gender conference (, I realized that many of us do these (or similar) items to help us become the best educators we can be.

Ritualized preparation for a new term is more than just mentally settling, it allows a way to connect with the student perspective and, I believe, reinforce respect for our students and their educational journey. So what will you do as you embark on a new term?

Interested in learning more on the topic of attire and professors? Check out the following articles:
Carr, D. L., Lavin, A. M., & Davies, T. L. (2009). The impact of business faculty attire on student perceptions and engagement. Journal of College Teaching & Learning, 6(1) retrieved from
Morris, T. L., Gorham, J., Cohen, S. H., & Huffman, D. (1996). Fashion in the classroom: effects of attire on student perceptions of instructors in college classes. Communication Education, 45, retrieved from

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