From the Science Student Council

Tips for First-time Teachers

By Tara Queen

Although teaching is a common requirement in many graduate programs, it is not uncommon for first-time teachers to feel ill-equipped and overwhelmed.  Some programs do not offer courses in teaching psychology, so we’ve compiled a list of tips to help you feel better prepared.

Seek out university teaching seminars.

Although you may not have access to a course designed to guide you in teaching psychology, your university may offer seminars to graduate students who are teaching undergraduate courses. Such seminars may be more general, but will likely also expose you to teaching rules and regulations particular to your university.

Consult with other graduate students.

It is likely that your colleagues have taught the same or a similar course and are willing to share their experiences and perhaps their teaching materials.  Seeing how others have structured the course may help you figure out the best way to organize your own class.

Seek out a teaching mentor.

Is there a professor you have had that made a class unforgettable? Speak with her or him about engaging students and classroom management.  You may also ask if they would be available to observe you teach. Receiving feedback from an experienced teacher is an important aspect for improving your teaching.

Set aside plenty of time to prepare.

Preparing lectures and class activities for a course you have not taught takes a tremendous amount of time. Make sure you set aside ample time to design your lectures, so that you feel more comfortable and prepared in the classroom. Teaching a course for the first time is time-consuming, and you may find it difficult to balance with your own lab or coursework. The good news is that once you develop and teach a class for the first time, the next time will be much easier.


Are you a nervous public speaker? Are you feeling anxious about explaining difficult concepts? Teaching is a great way to overcome these common fears. Help yourself feel more confident and prepared by practicing your lectures beforehand. Enlist the help of friends or a significant other who is not familiar with the course material. They may offer you pointers that will help you feel more comfortable come class time.

Have reasonable expectations.

Being a good teacher takes time. At first, you may struggle with engaging your students or feeling fully prepared, but your abilities will improve with time and experience.  Have your students complete an anonymous class evaluation mid-semester and at the conclusion of the course. Their feedback will help you identify the areas and skills that still need to be developed.

Make real-world connections

In some classes, such as Introduction to Psychology or other general education courses, many of your students will not be psychology majors. They may be enrolled in the course only to fulfill a requirement. It will likely be more difficult to engage such classes, thus it is especially important to help them make connections between scientific findings and everyday experiences.
For additional tips and resources, visit the Society for the Teaching of Psychology’s website.

Tara L. Queen, a graduate student at North Carolina State University, is the developmental psychology representative on the APASSC. Her research interests are focused on judgment and decision making across the adult lifespan.