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Advice to New Faculty Members

During summer 2011, the Center for Faculty Excellence asked faculty members on the tenure-track to offer advice to their incoming colleagues. The following includes all responses that were submitted. The only editing that has taken place has been to enhance clarity.


Faculty members were asked to offer advice on the following topics:

Teaching MSU Denver students

My experience has been that in my Intro level courses, I have to teach to a lower level than I would have at a more traditional institution. However, once students make it to the upper-division courses, they are very bright and motivated students to teach, and they enjoy very challenging work!

See the individual for who he or she is, and stay open-minded. Also, incorporate universal design into your teaching!

Follow your own path, staying true to your integrity. Then, if tenure happens, awesome, and if it doesn't, you still have yourself, your body of work, and your achievements, which will seed something new.

Some MSU Denver students are parents, some work full time, some have learning disabilities, some will really struggle to get to the level you expect them to, others might know as much as you do about your class because they worked in the field for a few years!  Metro students are so diverse that you have to leave a little wiggle room. I like to allow students to drop their lowest homework or lab grade so I don't have to accept late work. Most beginning Metro students don't know how to be a student, so you have to teach them how to read for meaning, how to study, and let them know what they should be doing outside of class to succeed.

Embrace diversity and non-traditional students. They make up the majority of your students.

Be able to draw on lecture examples that are diverse according to race, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, social class, and rural-urban differences.

Metro students span a wide range of ages, socioeconomic status, interest level, and preparedness. I know instructors who, in the face of this immense variability, impose all sorts of rules and structures to gain control. I've found that it's way more fun (for my students and for me) when I meet them where they are instead of trying to force them into rigid expectations that don't fit. I learn from—and laugh with—my students every day.

It is important to meet students where they are yet to set clear expectations and guidelines for the course.

Create rigor!

I have taught at several universities and was somewhat surprised by how demanding some of the Metro students can be. Many of Metro's students are paying for their own education (rather than their parents), so they are quite serious about their education. A majority of students are balancing work and child care with their coursework. Their time is very valuable to them.

Put assignments in writing. Give students the grading rubric or criteria and go over it with them so they understand exactly what is expected. Mention the Writing Center in your syllabus and explain that all writers can benefit from the Writing Center (not just the weaker writers).

Understand that this population of students has more complicated lives than students at other schools where you might have taught. They are commuters, often work many hours and have families. Taking attendance has been more important here than at other schools.

Adapt. Don't be afraid to use different methods for such a diverse student body. Share your personal experiences to give them a sense of how getting through school is hard for everyone.

Be flexible.

Conduct periodic assessments with each class to monitor how they feel the class is going. Design the assessments as anonymous / short open-ended surveys in which you ask about quality of course content, teaching style, items they find challenging, items they enjoy about the class, etc. This helps guide your class schedule and helps you understand the individual learning process for each student.

The instructor needs to be able to adapt to many learning styles and be able to present the information in a number of different ways. Also, patience in abundance is a key quality to possess.

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Handling office hours

Be consistent and follow departmental guidelines.

Put your time into large enough blocks that you actually get something done. Find some time to be there in the department office when many others are not.

The students have a schedule of their own and they will stop by when it works best for them, regardless of when your office hours are. You could turn them away, or you could try to make your hours coincide with when people will actually stop by. Perhaps you could try to find out when your majors will be most available and schedule hours around them. I always leave a note on my door if I'm down the hall or if I’ve stepped out for a minute so that students know I'm still around.

Whenever possible, and when not directly advising students, make use of those office hours to do any necessary class prep, grading, service tasks, or anything else you can to use that in-office time wisely.

Encourage students to attend office hours by making it part of student engagement in the course. For students who are reluctant to talk in class it provides them the opportunity to show the instructor that they are engaging with the material even though they are quiet in class.

Be available. Use Skype. Use texting.

I see a large number of students daily, so I have found that a sign-up sheet for appointments is a must. This can be done on-line as well. I believe students appreciate knowing they will see you at a specific time, rather than taking a chance you will be available. Be sure to record student visits by having them sign in or by using some other method so you can verify these student contact hours.

When a student comes to office hours and says "I don't understand X," don't launch into an explanation. First ask, "What have you done to try to understand it?"

I suggest that you make sure to schedule all your academic advising appointments in advance. Have CAPP reports printed in advance. Be as efficient as you can. You'll be glad you did.

I think this depends on the policy of your department. Our administrative staff makes appointments with students during our office hours. I like to have my office hours close to the time of my classes, since many students commute from a distance. That way, they can come to my office hours close to the time of class and don't have to make a special trip.

Show up!

Set specific hours and stick to them.

If possible, find out when your co-workers are conducting their office hours. Sometimes it does not help the department for everyone to offer office hours all at the same time. On another note, you might also not want to be the only person offering office hours on a particular day/time. My department only allows 30 minutes per advising session. Because of this, I split my required office hours into multiple days. Otherwise, if you offer all your office hours in one day... you might have a very hectic day!

My policy is to have open office hours where I will see anyone who shows up. If a student makes a specific appointment with me, then at the scheduled time I will work with them and have the other students without appointments wait.

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Succeeding with a 12-credit hour teaching load

If possible, try to minimize your preps. Teaching 2 or more sections of the same course helps to manage the workload tremendously.

Do not procrastinate too much. Streamline processes as much as possible. Learn how to, and then use, Banner systems.

Let your curriculum inform your scholarly activities and your service so you are not creating new work all of the time.

During the semester, remember that you can only do so much and sometimes you just have to cut yourself off from class prep at night and on the weekends. Course prep could be never-ending if you let it. Perfectionism has no place during your first year teaching four classes at a time. Sometimes an under-prepared lecture can be an opportunity for students to be most involved and learn the most. Having a main objective that you want to achieve in each course each day is key--not perfected slides. Use fellow professors and publisher reps as resources for class materials!  Teaching multiple classes in a day can be very draining, so be sure you are getting plenty of sleep! 

Don't compare your teaching load to those at institutions that don't have the same teaching requirements. And allow your idealistic zeal for teaching override any nagging requirements you may feel for professional development and service--those areas are necessary, but will come in their own due time if the quality of your teaching is as good as it can be.

If you are not already long in the tooth and have your teaching songs and dances, draw on the strategies of more senior colleagues---ask questions--they know!

Seek support (and commiseration, if need be) from colleagues. Borrow their resources and their ideas. Don't try to invent a new course or write a book or lead the Faculty Senate during your first year. Soon, you'll find a nice & steady rhythm.

Be 2 weeks ahead of the students. Be prepared.

Be very organized in planning the semester so you don't end up trying to grade projects and papers all at the same time. Stagger the scheduling for exams as well.

Tie your teaching and research together wherever possible.

Hopefully the department leadership can arrange for teaching a couple of sections of the same class so you don't have 4 different preps. A combination of online plus face-to-face courses helps, as well.

I've found it useful to have several “offices”: one on campus, one at home, and two at coffee shops. Do work whenever and however you can. Be very organized: use Excel spreadsheets for everything; keep calendars with reminders about assignment, due dates, etc.

Start prepared; prepare a detailed syllabus and follow it.

Our previous Chair wanted everyone to be able to teach all of the core courses within our program. This meant that each semester I was teaching something new, which meant a new course prep. I found myself never having time for simply updating a course because I was too worried about the new course prep. While that allowed me to be quite varied in the courses I am qualified to teach, I think this was a huge reason why I felt burned out so quickly. My best advice for succeeding with the 12-credit hour teaching load is to find a niche of courses that you enjoy teaching and are good at teaching and stick with those courses. While this might seem boring, it will allow you to focus and specialize in certain courses. It will also take away the stress of constant new preps!

Don't procrastinate on class prep or grading.

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Balancing academicand family/personal life

Always take care of yourself personally and do something to rejuvenate (for me it is having an appointment in the gym for an hour a day).

Personal life should drive academic work. Make self/family the priority, and then let your academic work come out of yourself.

I always told myself that I'd spend Fridays getting all of my work done, but then on Friday, I was so drained that I couldn't think and wasted the day away in front of the computer. I finally realized I'd be better off taking Friday as a personal day, Saturday as a family day, and then I'd work Sundays to get ready for the week. Do what works for you, but set boundaries. I no longer allow myself to work at night or spend entire weekends working. Sometimes that meant that I never got around to correcting a set of homework and the students had to wait a few more days, but at least I have my sanity, and in the end, that makes me a better teacher.

Put your family first, but remember that your job in academia helps you support that family, so do the best you can with the limited time you have. And expect a heart attack soon from all the stress of that balancing act J

There’s no such thing as one size fits all in this regard; do not be someone you are not.

Do not answer emails on evenings and weekends.

Know where your bread is buttered.

This is perhaps the most difficult part of the tenure process. In order to spend any time with my children and husband, I find myself working long hours after they go to bed. I have learned to function on very little sleep at critical times during the semester. It is a must to be organized and to limit interruptions during work hours (whether these are in the office or at home). My husband has had to take additional responsibilities to get my children to their activities, make dinner, etc. This role-reversal has been difficult for our marriage, however. My husband does not support the tenure-track process, so this has been a source of stress for me.

Take weekends or evenings off. Tell students (and colleagues) you don't check email after 5 p.m. or on weekends (even if you do).

Learn to set limits. One weekend day each week is a "sacred" day when I won't work. There is no way you can be at an A+ level at everything that is required of a faculty member. Set priorities, and  if you have perfectionist tendencies, let them go!

Carve out specific times where work is absolutely off limits, and that time is family time. Do the same for work.

To be honest, I am still struggling with this!  However, I find that knowing the academic calendar helps decrease the stress level. Be organized and work ahead!  Also, know the expectations of your department chair. For example, my chair always wants things submitted before they are actually due. She wants 'extra' time to look through everything the faculty submits. Therefore, I always have to consult with our chair in order to understand her expectations. Additionally, while it is rare to work a 9-5 day, and weekends are typically spent prepping, grading, and working within online courses, set limits!  Take days off where you do not touch anything having to do with work!

Don't give students your home/cell phone or home email, and on vacation times or even on some weekends, assign an 'out-of-the-office' response to your Metro email and don't worry about it.

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Fitting into your department

Be yourself and do not worry about impressing others. However, in your own way get to know others and become the kind of colleague you hope to have.

Listen, observe and get to know whom to trust and who is more interested in "getting ahead" for themselves. Then, find out who you are as a prof and how you can contribute your own uniqueness to complement the department. Find your niche--make yourself indispensible.

Make a friend in the department and have them introduce you to others. Keep your office door open for unscheduled chats and spend your first year's worth of department meetings listening, not complaining or wasting the time of others.

Get to know the strengths of your colleagues. They will help you look past their weaknesses.

Remember that showing modesty and humility is the best way to arrive. Senior colleagues have been there and done that, so don't try to reinvent the wheel until you know more about how the wheel works.

Spend the first year observing the department culture to really understand how it functions.

Most departments are dysfunctional. It's hard to fit in.

It is best to listen, observe, and learn how the politics of the department work during the first few years of employment. Be friendly but not social outside of the office. Be careful who you make alliances with until you learn how things work. Keep changes and new ideas to yourself until you learn who the key players are that can help you make improvements to programs and procedures.

Read colleagues' online profiles. Ask your chair to explain the committees in your department. Read the department mission statement, website, and guidelines. Familiarize yourself with the concentrations and major/minor requirements. Minimize the use of the phrase, "When I was at [name of last institution you taught at or your PhD institution], we did XYZ"--you're at MSU Denver now; learn MSU Denver's culture.

Go in with the attitude that you will be a team player, and express genuine appreciation for others' contributions and accomplishments.

Talk to everyone; ask advice; ask questions. Take your colleagues out to lunch/coffee and get to know then on a personal level.

Take time to get to know your co-workers. However, do not compare yourself to your co-workers. Each person has individual strengths and weaknesses. Just try to find out which co-workers are willing to mentor, as those people will be very helpful as you move through the tenure process.

Observe and listen initially. And don't play politics.

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Where to go for advice

My department gave me a faculty mentor who was always available to give me advice. Another great resource is the department chair.

Go to someone who is like-minded and whom you can trust. If there are "tricky" issues, Metro will soon have an ombudsman for faculty to express concerns to.

Difficult one- I still struggle with this.

A trusted faculty member within your own department.

Mentors outside the department, where you can be more yourself without fear of retribution.

The Center for Faculty Development.

Find a mentor, but not necessarily the one assigned to you.

Department chairs and senior department members.

Our administrative assistant is a wealth of information, but I think having a good faculty mentor is important. I would also suggest that new faculty join a faculty learning community their first year, as this served as a great support group for me.

Your mentor. Your Chair.

Friends and other Metro faculty members with whom you have a rapport.

Find one or two faculty in your department who are skilled teachers and organized individuals to go to with questions.

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What do I wish I knew then that I know now?

It took me until my second year at Metro to really understand the intense level of service and committee work that is expected. A lot of the tenure rules are unwritten, so it is important to keep your ears open and talk to faculty and administration across the college in order to figure out what is expected for tenure.

I wish I would have had a clearer vision of what my expectations were and how I would be evaluated, but I still wish this and hopefully with new procedures being developed this will be better for new faculty.

More about "academics" and the higher ed life. The politics can feel threatening. I thought it was about teaching, but it is really about professional development.

I wish I knew that everything would fall into place. I got involved in just a few things, knew a few people, and it all grew very naturally from there.

That the work load was beyond overbearing, the hours were unreasonable, and the pay raises (when they come) would never match inflation. At the same time, my years in the private sector were far easier, but they were never as rewarding.

How much my family would struggle on the pay. It could force me out of academia...:(...

How difficult it is to manage the teaching load and meet the other expectations for tenure.

Publish or perish. We're a research institution?

Your chair is your advocate. He or she hired you and wants you to succeed. Your success will reflect positively on him or her.

I had a lot of trouble with advising policies and procedures. I would have liked for someone to mentor me in this area, perhaps by letting me observe some advising sessions. I needed more information, maybe from the Advising Center, to explain General Studies requirements, CAPP reports and adjustments, and similar topics.

I wish I was more aware of the need to keep track of materials for the dossier.

I wish someone told me that teaching is not the main focus and that you will not get release time for anything!  The expectations of teaching/advising, scholarly activities, and service will equate to a work week that is over 40 hours and stretches 7 days/week.

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What am I most passionate about at work?

My research is what energizes me to keep going. I really value the summer to help recharge my research, and to have a break from student contact!

Truly learning from everyone here and becoming involved. I strongly suggest MetroLeads after being here for a few years.

Doing my work and knowing that contribution. Teaching students is the real goal.

Pushing the students beyond their comfort zones so they can see the potential that I see in them. They may complain about it in class, but they always come back and thank me once they hit the workforce.

Mentoring students, such as at CAMP.

Assisting students in their academic, personal, and professional goals both in and outside of the classroom.

Delivering great new info to students.

MSU Denver students are invested in their education. Most of them have jobs and heavy responsibilities in addition to school. They aren't always able to balance it all, and sometimes school can't be their priority, but they want it to be. They are interesting and have opinions (which they will share with you if they believe you really want to know what they think). I enjoy working with MSU Denver students immensely and hope you do, too.

I love teaching General Studies classes. But what makes MSU Denver really special is that I'm in a department with very supportive faculty colleagues.

My work--I tell myself every day that I love what I do, and I'm fortunate to be doing it. Aggravations, complications, assignments, piles of papers, etc. are part of the deal.

Students and teaching.

Student success.


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