by Mitch Lorenz, Graduate Student, Psychology
My first teaching assignment fell into my lap unexpectedly at the institution where I received my Master’s degree. This seemed like good fortune and a great opportunity to gain some teaching experience. I was excited to transition from student to teacher but, after a brief period of elation, reality began to set in. I only had a few weeks to prepare, and I had so many questions!
To get started I did what I imagine many first time teachers do: find someone who has taught the class and steal graciously borrow their materials. I now realize that there are various approaches to thoughtfully designing a course, but at the time I was less concerned with content and more concerned with how I could convince students that I was a credible and qualified instructor. I had just received my Master’s degree, but what did I REALLY know?
This type of self-doubt reflects what has been called the imposter syndrome: feelings of being unqualified or incapable of a task, leading to lower self-esteem, negative mood, and less goal-directedness within the workplace (Brems, Baldwin, Davis, & Namyniuk, 1994). Being grumpy and less motivated to work certainly isn’t going to help establish credibility. With this in mind, what can be done to establish credibility? Dannels (2015), who devotes an entire chapter to this topic in 8 Essential Questions Teachers Ask, offers a variety of helpful suggestions.
Establishing Credibility on Day One
- Explain your connection to course content
Share your relevant experience with your students in order to establish your qualifications while also providing some personal insight into you as an academic. You can also use the opportunity to explore students’ experience in the subject area, helping to establish credibility while also demonstrating an interest in what your students bring to the class.
- Provide a rationale for assignments, policies, etc.
You have likely given some thought to why assignment A is necessary, why your attendance policy is so strict, why you require X comment paper, etc. Sharing these explanations with your students provides insight into your motivations and how you imagine each decision fulfilling your goals for student learning.
- Provide a course-relevant example not available in the textbook
Sharing an interesting piece of knowledge related to the course that is not covered in the text book, and accompanying it with a relatable demonstration (e.g., video, activity), is a great way to establish credibility while also ramping up interest in the course (did you see that example today?! Oh wow this class is going to be so awesome!).
These examples are only the starting point! Credibility is built over time and a great first day can only go so far if there is a failure to continue demonstrating credibility throughout the semester. The openness and clarity suggested in these day one strategies can serve as the basis for continuing to build credibility within a single class and across semesters. Hopefully, these strategies will help assuage impostor concerns so you can focus on helping your students learn effectively.
Brems, C., Baldwin, M. R., Davis, L., & Namyniuk, L. (1994). The imposter syndrome as related
to teaching evaluations and advising relationships of university faculty members. The Journal of Higher Education, 183-193. doi: 10.2307/2943923
Dannels, D. (2015). Eight essential questions teachers ask: A guidebook for communicating with
students. New York, NY: Oxford University Press