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How Do I Prepare to Teach?

There is an increased expectation that faculty do well in the classroom almost from the very first day. And so taking the oportunities to learn more about effective teaching as a graduate student and as a post-doc.

Most graduate programs are making a greater investment in preparing graduate students for the classroom. This varies from workshops on TA preparation to having full courses in teaching and/or on physics education research. Even if you do not intend to go into academia the skills of being a TA (e.g., giving a 10 minute talk, leading class discussion, listening to student explanations and interpreting the reasoning used, ... ) are valuable in many areas. But being a TA will take you away from research and so how your research advisor perceives this acivity will need to be considered in your decision.

In addition, there are schools that need a visiting faculty for a course or even a full year. Some of these positions are tailored specifically for graduate students considering the academic profession, and so many of these will offer a reduced teaching load and mentoring on the teaching aspects. But again this will take you away from research ... and so the impact this will have on your development and how your research advisor values this kind of preparation will again need to be taking into account before exploring this option. And there are a few post-doc opportunities which offer a menored teaching experience. But these are still few in number and fairly competitive.

But regardless of your possible preparation being in the classroom will be a major portion of your time and energy of your career and a major factor (in some case the most significant factor) in being evaluated for tenure. But perhaps more importantly you will have the responsibility of preparing future physicsists ... future citizens ... and you will want to do well in all of these endeavors.

Many schools are now having workshop on teaching for new faculty and there is an effortt by schools to establish teaching/learning centers to assist faculty in their courses. If your school has one of these centers finding time to explore their resources and programs would be a worthwhile investment. If not you will need to establish your own set of resources.

A book on teaching techniques at the college level would be very valuable. There are many such books and you should find one that appeals to you, Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis is an example.

But there are specific resources in physics that you should know.

An overview of the kinds of preparation availabe to graduate TAs is in Resource Letter EPGA-1:The education of physics graduate assistants by E. Leonard Jossem, American Journal of Physics (68 (6), 502-512, 2000) but this is more valuable to program officers rather than TAs and anyone teaching in physics should have this resource letter near at hand. It provides a comprehensive list of teaching resources, instructional strategies, conference proceedings and a formidable bibliography on all aspects of teaching physics. The single most valuable book for the new physics faculty member may be Teaching Introductory Physics: A Sourcebook by Clifford Swartz and Thomas Miner (AIP Press, 1997). In addition to a short chapter on teaching techniqiues the authors guide the reader in preparing the topics of an introductory physics course.

After a year or two of teaching new faculty may realize that in spite of having classes that are well-prepared and effectively delivered students are still having difficulties remaining engaged and achieving good understanding.

A valuable experience for new faculty is the Workshop for New Physics and Astronomy Faculty hosted by the AAPT. The workshop is designed for faculty in their second or third year of teaching.

The book Teaching Introductory Physics by Arnold B. Arons (Wiley, New York, 1997) is a marvelous introduction to the nature of the misconceptions students possess and the conceptual barriers they encounter as they study physics.

Two other books provide valuable insight into icorporating the insights and paradigms of the outcomes of physics education research are

Teaching Physics with the Physics Suite
Edward F. Redish, (John Wiley and Sons, New York, 2003)

Five Easy Lessons: Strategies for Successful Physics Teaching
Randall D. Knight, (Addison-Wesley, New York, 2002)