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How to be an Effective Teacher From Day One!

How to be an Effective Teacher From Day One!


By Christine Sproles, MSN, RN, Assistant Dean of Nursing and Nursing Instructor, Fortis Institute, Pensacola, FL

Do you ever ask yourself, “When will I finally feel like I can really teach?!?” Teaching in a classroom filled with students or teaching a client one-on-one still requires that the one “teaching” (the educator) knows what they are doing. As we all know, teaching is more than just having some information that we share with someone else. Teaching has an ultimate goal that the recipient will learn what is being taught. That doesn’t always come easy.

This article will provide the educator (new or experienced) with some strategies for being an effective teacher out of the gate!

Where do we start in this process of becoming an effective teacher? It is important to be prepared, to be organized, and to be competent and confident.

Be prepared

What does it mean to “be prepared?” Know your subject! Even if it is your first-time teaching, having a strong working knowledge of the subject you are teaching will help put your students at ease. They will think “at least he/she knows what they are talking about.” Use additional resources if needed. Maybe your textbook doesn’t cover it all – use the internet, YouTube videos, etc. Have adequate teaching materials. Let students know what to expect. Develop a list of learning objectives for each lesson taught. These can be printed and given to the students in advance, but a simple and effective use of objectives is to include them in your slide presentation at the start of class. These objectives also work great as a study guide. The students can focus their reading and studying based on the objectives given to them for each lesson. Students know that if it isn’t in the lesson objectives, they don’t need to worry about it. The objectives provide direction and focused study. As an instructor, anything I want them to know that is not in the text, I provide as a handout or give them the link to a website; but I also note that in the lesson objectives. Objectives give you, as the teacher, direction for your lesson.

Where do you get objectives? As a novice teacher, you may not know where to find lesson objectives or how to write your own. Most textbooks contain objectives for each chapter. Those are a great starting place. Take those objectives and “tweak” them to make them your own. For example, if your math textbook has a chapter objective that says “State common equivalents in the metric system,” but you want your students to be able to apply this rather than just give you a list, you can change the objective to state “Convert measures within the metric system.” Now you have made it clear that the students not only have to be able to “recite” the equivalents but also apply the information.

Review key points at the end of each topic – asking students questions to see if they are getting those important concepts. These review questions can be used as a pop quiz at the end of a session or at the beginning of the next session. The students actually like this! It only takes five or 10 minutes.

Another way to review key points is to have the students break up into groups that you assign, and give them a case study or two with a few questions to accompany the case study. Allow the students a certain amount of time to go over the case study together and then have them take turns answering the questions before the entire class. Everyone learns from this, and by having groups, it allows students to get “extra” information from another group that they, perhaps, missed. As the teacher, you can add anything that might get missed.

If you are a novice teacher, or if you feel intimidated by standing in front of a group of adult learners, practice your teaching at home – record yourself, practice before a mirror or in front of your family. You can get feedback from your family. Also, you can judge how long it will take you to cover a certain topic or get through all of your PowerPoint slides and illustrations.

Be organized

In addition to being prepared to teach, you need to be organized. This can be difficult for some, especially if you are new to teaching. You may feel overwhelmed by just preparing enough material to fill your class time. Or you may feel like you have more to cover than you have time available. Being organized can be helpful. I suggest preparing for yourself a lesson plan or an outline of what you need to cover in the time allotted. I have been teaching for over 30 years, and I still make lesson plans for days when I feel I have a lot to cover. This allows you to break out your class time into sections. You include topics or chapters you want to cover in a certain time period. You make note of how long you want to allow for a quiz or to go over homework, etc. When I administer a quiz, I let the students know in advance how many minutes they have to complete the quiz. They are not allowed unlimited time. This is in my lesson plan.

All of this detail to time and content is intended to help the teacher see where they need to speed up a bit or where something needs to be eliminated if there is not enough time.

Over time, you get in a rhythm and can pretty much know how long it will take you to cover certain topics and can gauge your time in advance. Be sure to incorporate the lesson objectives in your lesson plan so you ensure you are covering everything you want the students to know. But remember this – the most important part of having a lesson plan or outline is to use it!

Be competent and confident

Know what you are to teach! Don’t come into the class with a hit-or-miss attitude, thinking maybe the students won’t notice that you’re not feeling good about what you are to teach that day. Trust me, they will notice if you are not displaying competency in your ability to teach the subject. They will pick up on it very quickly.

Confidence comes partly from knowing your subject, but it is also a frame of mind. Even if you feel you are only one teaching session or class ahead of your students in understanding the subject you are teaching, demonstrate confidence in your ability to teach that subject. Be prepared enough that you at least KNOW what you are covering that day! When a student asks a question, answer it if you can. If not, you can respond with one of several options, but never tell your students you don’t know or that you don’t like a subject you have to teach. If you don’t know, tell the students you will find out. Or another option is to ask a student to research it for you and bring it back to the class the next time you meet. A third option is to look it up right there in class. Perhaps you can search for it in the textbook, Google the subject, or just search the internet. However, be careful that students don’t use this as a tactic to distract you from your teaching. If so, you have just lost your classroom organization.

Classroom management

Let’s talk about classroom management. At our institution, we give our students a three-question survey every term. The questions are about the individual course and the individual instructor. Therefore, they will have this survey in every class they are taking. The questions are:

1. What am I doing in teaching this class that is good?
2. What am I doing in teaching this class that is not so good?
3. If you could change anything about this class to make it better, what would it be?

The three responses I get most often about question #1 are that the students appreciate that I am so organized. Secondly, they tell me that they can tell that I love the subject I teach and that I care about them as individuals. The third thing they say is that they love the real-life stories I share with them. They tell me how it helps them understand the concepts better. Recently during the first week of class in a new term, two students approached me and said how much they were enjoying my class. They said, “You are refreshingly organized. We know what to expect from you.”

Students – even adult learners – appreciate it when they know the instructor is in control. They want boundaries. Even when you are not especially confident in what you are going to teach for a particular day, starting off with classroom organization sets the tone, and students feel comfortable and “secure” that you, as the teacher, know what you are about.

Some ways to manage your classroom include beginning class on time. I recommend closing the door to your classroom right on time.

If class begins at 8 a.m., close the door at 8:00. Some schools do not keep track of late students. At our institution, we require students who are late to get a late admittance pass. Once the door is closed, students must get a pass to enter the classroom. I do the same thing for breaks. Once the break is over, I close the door and continue with the lesson. Class should begin even if all the students are not in their places. They will soon learn that every minute of class time is precious, and they better get in their seats!

If you are able, use a phone basket in the classroom. Students who bring their phone to class must place them in the basket on mute or silent mode. This is especially useful on test days. No students should have their phone on their person during class time. If they have special needs, they should contact the instructor prior to the start of class for those arrangements.

Call roll in your class, even if you use a seating chart and know your students’ names. This actually helps prevent mistakes from occurring with attendance rosters. Make it a habit. Students will expect it.

Use of a seating chart has several advantages – one being that you can learn your students’ names much faster. The same student will always be in the same seat in your class. (I allow the students to choose their own seat.) Put the seating chart in front of you and use it to call on students by name. Students feel valued when you call them by name. When you see them in the hall, address them by name. It means a lot to them! It engages them in your class. They feel valued and a part of the class.

Control talking in class. When it is time to begin, casually walk to the podium and state, “Let’s stop talking now. It’s time to begin.” If this is done in a mature, matter-of-fact manner, it does not offend the students at all. They know you mean business and pretty much stop the chatter.

Be sure to manage other behaviors in the classroom that may detract from students being engaged. For example, a student working on homework or studying for another class during your class. Again, casually walk over to the student and ask him or her to put it away – quietly, but firmly. We are not trying to embarrass a student but to get them back to being engaged in class. Your job as a teacher is not only to impart knowledge to your students, but you should also be helping them with listening skills and classroom behaviors that aid in the learning process.

Have a system in place for collecting homework, whether it is to pass it down the row, set it on the desk when they enter class, or place it in a homework basket or bin – whatever works for you. But have a system and use it. Students want to know what you expect from them. Have protocols – procedures for how you handle the day-to-day activities of your class. Students will appreciate it and will follow through. Because I use a seating chart, my students are always in the same seat each day class meets. I can count on that. So my method of collecting homework is to have the students pass their homework to the center aisle, placing theirs on top of the stack. They know this is what I want. So while I am taking attendance, they are already passing their homework down to the person at the aisle – homework is stapled, in order, in a neat stack to hand to me as I walk down the aisle. I use this same technique for returning homework, tests and quizzes.

One method of managing things in your classroom is to place numbers on the test booklets and have the students place their booklet number on their answer sheet. This makes quick work in returning tests to the students. Everything is already in order. For returning tests and quizzes, turn them upside down so no one sees the student’s grade but the student to whom it belongs.

Determine how you will handle late homework. Put the policy in your course syllabus. If you do not accept late homework, don’t accept it. If you accept late homework if a student is absent, state that in your syllabus. If you accept late homework with a grade penalty, state that. Again, make the policy known by putting it in your syllabus. Go over the policy on the first day of class and then stick to it! It is the instructor’s prerogative to make exceptions when you feel it is warranted. But, again, manage your classroom! Set the ground rules and then follow them.

All of these “policies” and activities show students that you care about them because you care if they are in class, if they are on time, that they are listening.

It tells them that you have important information to give them and you want them to receive it, to “get” it, and to be successful.

Plan your time

Don’t test if you haven’t taught. Just don’t put it on the test. You may refer to boxes and tables from the text, but if you haven’t covered a chapter or a topic that was in your syllabus or course outline, don’t put it on the test. Tell your students what to expect and what will NOT be on the test.

Require students to take notes. This helps the students to be accountable for their own learning. Don’t allow them to constantly ask you what page you are on. Tell them to jot down key items you are referring to and then look them up in their book later. If a student asks me what page I’m on, I will often say, “I don’t know what page it is. Write down what I’m saying – listen!” Emphasize to your students the importance of listening. If they are spending all of their time searching through the text to find what page you are on so they can highlight everything they see, they are not getting what it is you are teaching. Encourage students to take notes, but also to LISTEN!

Don’t put everything in your PowerPoint slides. This should be an outline of your topics, not a line-by-line description of your lecture. Let the students fill in the gaps. I teach Pharmacology. It is a LOT of information. I have prepared a booklet for my students that is about 90 pages long. It is a study packet and note-taking tool for them. It allows them to listen to me, fill in blanks, and to focus on the most important information they need to know. It has taken years to develop this, but it allows the students to actually LISTEN to what is being taught. You don’t have to develop a booklet for every subject you teach, but try to get your students to listen more than highlight.

Classroom participation

An important aspect of being an effective teacher is by engaging students in classroom participation. Have your students complete their readings and other assigned learning activities, such as viewing videos, prior to coming to class. This is one way to help put some responsibility on them for their own learning. You don’t have to cover everything in class. Just focus on new concepts or those that may be a little more difficult for the students to grasp from their reading. If you require your students to do their reading prior to coming to class, you can ask them to write down questions they may have about the content or just questions they may want to ask about something specific in the chapter. They can then participate more actively in class discussions. They may come with questions that others have, as well. You can refer to their video, assuming they have already watched it because you assigned it to them prior to class.

One of the things my students actually ask for are practice questions in class – even asking for daily quizzes over the material covered in the previous class! These classroom response questions get the students thinking at a higher level. It gets them engaged in your class because they know they’re going to be asked these questions before class is over or at the start of the next class. This is one of the items my students comment on in the “How Am I Doing?” survey I mentioned earlier. Question #3 asks “If you could change anything about this class, what would it be?” They want MORE classroom response questions and more daily quizzes. Yes! They do!

You can incorporate these throughout your discussion, at the beginning, or at the end. I like to start class with about five questions from the previous lesson. This gets them thinking and serves as a great review. You can use clickers or color-coded cards for students to use to answer the questions. The students hold up the card for their answer when the question is asked. You’d be surprised at how few students don’t give an answer – most often every student will participate. Encourage students not to look around at others’ answers. Sometimes they may be the only one with the correct answer. Don’t rely on someone else to have the correct answer. An important part of this exercise is providing rationales for both the correct and the incorrect answers. In nursing, the majority of our questions are at the application or analysis level. We are trying to prepare our students for the national licensure exam – the NCLEX-RN exam. Understanding why an answer is incorrect is almost as important as understanding why the correct answer is the correct answer. You can also end your class with about five questions, reviewing the concepts you covered in class that day. However, be careful that you are not using the same questions for review in class that you plan to use on your exam.

Another activity that I have recently employed in my classroom to enhance students’ learning is to prepare a “ticket to class.”

These tickets may include a small case study followed by a few questions, or it may just be several questions related to a topic that I will be covering and that I want them to be “up” on prior to class. They must do their work independently and then submit the ticket to me when they come to class. I go over the answers with the students, but these do not count as a grade. I want the students to not feel pressured about their answers because they are worried about a grade. The feedback I have received on these “tickets” has been purely positive. The students love them!

Be aware of who is participating in class. Don’t let a few students monopolize the class. Control the discussion. Have students raise their hand and wait to be called on (as a rule). Call on students who never answer. Set the groundwork in advance for this. Let students know that you are not trying to embarrass or humiliate anyone in front of their classmates. Explain that you are helping students to learn by involving them in the discussion.

Discuss difficult concepts in class, such as a new type of math calculation. Teach the concept. Practice it in class. Assign homework on the new concept. Then call on students to describe the “process” when you see they are struggling. “Mary, can you tell me how you would set this up? Which numbers do we need to calculate this IV drip rate?” Sometimes having the struggling student talk through the process will help them “get it.” Recently I started having the students come to the board and work out the dosage calculation problems before the entire class. They are now volunteering to do this. Again, this has been a positive improvement in class, and the students tell me that it helps them learn. The whole purpose of this exercise is to engage the students in their own learning. If you see they are struggling, don’t ignore it!

Assign appropriate homework

Ask yourself these questions: 1) What is the purpose of the assignment? 2) Will it enhance the lesson content? 3) Will it help meet the lesson objectives? If the homework assignment doesn’t meet this criterion, don’t assign it! Students have enough to do without getting homework that is purely “busy work.”

Go over difficult assignments in class, such as group projects, nursing care plans, case studies, teaching tools, or other similar assignments. Allow time for questions.

Illustrations vs. stories

Many students are visual learners. Use resources such as videos, photos, films, YouTube. Bring objects to show or demonstrate. Provide variety. Don’t use just one type of visual aid, such as PowerPoint. Even that becomes monotonous and boring after a while. Be sure the illustration is teaching something – not just telling a story. Students will often tell me that they remembered a certain concept because they remembered my illustration in class. Control the amount of and quality of “stories” students tell in class – be sure they are appropriate and not just wasting class time or a stall tactic.


So what happens at the end of the day? Are you coming to class prepared to teach? Are your students engaged in the learning process? Have order. Be prepared. Use variety. Show respect. Have students participate – all of them! Watch their faces and listen to their comments. Give feedback. And then watch you and your students succeed!


CHRISTINE SPROLES is the Assistant Dean of nursing and a nursing instructor at Fortis Institute in Pensacola, Florida. She has been an educator for more than 30 years, teaching courses in medical office administration and nursing.

During her time at Fortis, Christine has developed a means to motivate her students and increase morale along with a Math for Success program to help students progress in math skills throughout their program. Realizing a need to improve performance in her pharmacology course, she performed a gap analysis using HESI specialty exams to identify content areas where students scored low and executed a plan to boost student outcomes. The results were positive with mean scores and student satisfaction increasing significantly.

Christine is an active faculty member at Fortis Institute performing functions such as assisting faculty members with lesson objective development using appropriate cognitive levels and serving on a subcommittee to revise clinical skills requirements. She is the chairperson for the Evaluation and Outcomes Committee for the nursing program at Fortis.

Recognized for her commitment to nursing education, she received the Five-Star Faculty award from Fortis Institute in 2014 and the Outstanding Teacher Award from Pensacola Christian College in 2002. Christine received the 2015 Master Teacher Award at the 12th Annual National Conference on Allied Health Education by ABHES and Elsevier.

Christine has been a breakout session speaker at several nursing and allied health conferences nationally, speaking on topics related to student success. She also serves as a reviewer for textbooks, such as McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Davis.

She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Pensacola Christian College in Pensacola, Florida. She furthered her education and received a Master of Science in Nursing from the University of Portland in Portland, Oregon.

Contact Information: Christine Sproles, MSN, BSN, RN // Assistant Dean of Nursing and Nursing Instructor // Fortis Institute //4081 E. Olive Road, Suite B // Pensacola, FL 32514 // 850-476-7607 // CSproles@FortisInstitute.edu



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