Tips for Teaching in Graduate School: Maintaining Large Classes

Think back on your undergraduate career, do you think your professor or GTA had good classroom management skills? Do you remember sitting in the back of a large lecture hall talking with your friends, texting, and taking notes that consisted of nothing more than doodles? If this was you, you were probably thinking that no one even noticed you-you were just one person in a room of 300. The beautiful irony of all this is that now that you are in graduate school, you will probably be in the reverse role: standing in front of 300 students, most of whom are not paying any attention to you. Being a graduate teaching assistant (GTA) can be difficult in and of itself, but teaching in college for a huge class can feel overwhelming. Now think back to some of your favorite classes. What kept you focused and engaged? What classroom management techniques was the professor using to keep command of the class? Here are some helpful classroom management tips for managing large classes that you may want to incorporate into your own “bag of tricks” so you don’t lose control of the class.

Monitor Attendance
You are probably not going to remember every student’s name and face, so you should keep track of who is actually showing up to class on a regular basis. Knowing who is showing up can be very important if you have to consider making special arrangements for students or even (on the oh-so-rare occasion) bumping an 89.47 up to an A. You should take attendance at the beginning of class so that students who show up late do not get credit for that day.

Monitor Activity
As the instructor of record, your task during class is to cover the material and lecture. However, if you are instructing a large class, you will probably have a fellow graduate student or two to assist you. Have your fellows instructors attend class and walk around monitoring the room; you’d be surprised how much better students behave when they know they are being watched. Also, make sure that your fellow instructors watch the back door for people who will try to sneak out of class early.

Don’t Be Boring
Remember when you were sitting in the back of the classroom bored nearly to tears. What would have maintained your interest better? Be engaging, utilize media and other educational technologies, and involve students in discussions and small group activities. Lastly, never-for absolutely any reason-think that reading word for word from a publisher’s PowerPoint is a good lecture.

The bottom line, if not for the sake of the students, but for the sake of having the class under your control and not theirs, it is important for you to have strong classroom management skills, or it will turn into a very long semester!

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