With a new semester comes new faculty members on campuses across the nation—and taking time to learn ins and outs is critical.

Important considerations for new faculty members

With a new semester comes new faculty members on campuses across the nation—and taking time to learn individual university ins and outs is critical

Key points:

As the fall semester starts around the nation, it seems a useful time to share some thoughts for new faculty members walking into their initial faculty roles this autumn.

One newer faculty member shared the following advice for new faculty members: Her first suggestion for new faculty is that higher education has its own pace. It is much different than the business world or K-12 education. It is slower, but it is often more political where process is as important, if not in some cases more, than the ideas to be implemented. In general, politics are more pervasive within higher education as well.

Time management and organization are essential, and the need for additional time for reading and research always seems to be evasive. Setting realistic goals and sticking to those goals and timelines is key to being successful. Map out your productivity plan for the year and get input from your formal and informal mentors. Make sure you fully understand the expectations for service and research beyond your instructional responsibilities. Find those faculty members who can provide you with guidance and help you through those first couple of years. Ask for samples to work from. Many of the best faculty will be happy to share their work to help lighten your load.

Another faculty member suggests an instructional focus and offered this: Set clear expectations for assignments and stay current with grading. Rubrics and assignment exemplars are useful for students as well. Take time to go through the syllabus or develop a method to ensure students read it. For instance, bury a note in your syllabus to email the instructor a picture of a dolphin after they have completely read the syllabus. Other easter eggs work in the same way. It is the same concept used by Van Halen in requiring the removal of all the brown M&Ms from their backstage munchies. They were using it as a way to see if the concert promoters had read the entire contract.

New faculty members should communicate regularly and proactively with students. Sending out the syllabus a week or two prior to the start of the course is not a bad idea. Likewise, letting students view the course in the learning management system before class starts can be helpful.

At the end of the term, make sure students (and you) understand final deadlines and university policies for extensions, appeals, etc. Often the student doesn’t know the process to ask for an extension or how to appeal a grade.  Don’t be afraid to direct students to advisors when you don’t know what you are talking about for their programs. When possible, try to learn about the common programs your students are enrolled in, but never hesitate to reach out to the advising staff or direct students to the same.

Make sure you become familiar with how to obtain accessibility and accommodations for students with disabilities. Many university students do not apply for accommodations for a variety of reasons. Understand your obligations in how to support students needing accommodations or assistive technologies. A suggestion is to provide contact information for accessibility services, veterans’ services, etc. within the body of your syllabus so students know where to go for help. Encouraging students to use the university’s writing center and other tutoring services is another item to consider adding to your syllabi. Some students feel discouraged if they need to go for help, so try to normalize using tutoring services by encouraging all students to utilize those services.

Utilize the instructional design (ID) and instructional technology resources available on campus. A great instructional designer can be an exceptional resource in utilizing the university’s resources. They can often guide you on what the common expectations are by other faculty. Few will know as much about other instructors’ courses than the ID team.

Along the same line, take the time to meet with your departmental liaison librarian(s). Let them know what you are covering in your courses and what your research interests are. Many librarians will keep that information on their radar and share potential resources with you. Encourage your students to engage with the librarians as well. Beyond providing their own expertise, the designers and librarians are often a good resource to help direct you to other campus resources.

Learn to use technology resources to make your planning and coursework more effective. Take advantage of the university’s center for enhancing teaching and learning. They have lots of different names, but every university will have such a center.

One last point: Be kind and generous to your office manager or department assistant. Those staff are not always treated with the respect they deserve. Being decent to those folks can pay huge dividends, as they often know the university’s processes and personalities more than most.

Remember, working in higher education is a wonderful career. Even though we suffer from imposter syndrome nearly daily and the environment is often extremely political, teaching in higher education is extremely rewarding and allows for a greater impact than many dream possible.

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