Question for my readers:


Next week I’ll be starting as a part time teacher at Parsons The New School for Design here in New York. (Yay!) My goal will be to educate a group of approx 12 students about web design and give them an introduction to designing and planning a site. I am (cautiously) excited and humbled by the learning curve that’s ahead of me, never having taught before.

Are you a professional teaching part-time? If so, what advice would you give someone like me who starting to teach? What was your biggest teaching epiphany? I would love to hear your experience!

80 Comments leave a comment below

  1. I just started teaching at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver and have to say that course planning takes more time than I imagined (to make my class interesting and relevant). Balancing this out in the midst of my other work and projects has been an interesting learning curve.

    Being aware of how much I’m learning even as I teach has been an epiphany, of sorts. And that you can’t please everyone all the time (diversity of learning styles in a class).

    Good luck with your class!

  2. I am anxiously awaiting responses on this! I am in the same situation as you…I begin teaching an Image class to approx 13 students this Fall at Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis. Congratulations to us both on our new endeavors!!

  3. I am not a teacher, but as a recent grad perhaps I can fill you in on the teaching ways of my best professors.

    One professor of mine, ironically who also taught web design, really did a wonderful job integrating design with strategy and research. His web design class only focused on brand strategy (competitive analysis, mood boards, target audiences, etc.) and front-end design; there was no back-end coding in his class whatsoever. I’m not sure what exact specifics you’ll be bringing to your class, but I really enjoyed his focus on strategy because, as you know, proper research is the key to designing anything.

    (I must note, as a job-seeker, that it frustrates me to no end when companies want to hire a web designer and expect that person to be a master at both front- and back-end design. I was always told that it’s good to know a little bit of the other, but that no one really is a design ninja at both. Perhaps that assumption is wrong nowadays? Thoughts?)

    I guess overall the professors I enjoyed and learned from the most were the ones who instilled the will to consider all the details. Granted, it’s up to an individual designer to give him or herself that motivation to concentrate on details, but it’s nice to have that encouraged by professors.

    Lastly, please please please encourage communal critiquing! They critiques in so many of my classes were essentially one-on-one critiquing with the other 25 students bored out of their mind. With only 12 students it will hopefully be easier to get them to participate, but it is essential for students to be critiqued from their peers.

  4. if you’re teaching AAS or Certificate, remember the students are more mature and might have a former degree. They can take your crits much easier than the first year foundation students. I taught certificate classes one year. The students were more concerned about their book than the knowledge you can provide. But by the second semester, i created projects that the class could work on weekly which could produce a piece or two for their book, and the response was excellent. I tried to keep the class open for questions at all times. i became their friend. when i made a “crit” i gave them a “Why” and “how i might solve the problem” No matter who’s in you class or at what level they might be in experience they are excited in learning from someone you know the biz. keep your class excited on the subject and you will have a successful year. Good luck…Parsons Class of 2001.

  5. I am a professional and have taught PT at the technical college level for 9 years….everything from print, to design, to software…currently doing two intro photoshop course that just started last week.

    My two cents is to first, enjoy what you are doing. The planning, the being there, the interaction-just the experience of being in that environment is an amazing personal journey.

    Second (more on the educator side of things), plan your curriculum carefully…and stop at NOTHING to make sure your students understand what is expected of them. Being vague or giving them space to be creative and explore is one thing, but what they really seem to need to be successful is structure. Once they know, in no uncertain terms, what is expected and when-and what the consequences of it all is-they will be more successful as students….and you as an educator.

    Congrats and enjoy! Feel free to email if you ever need some cyber support!

  6. awesome!!

    first, just be yourself – you will likely be tempted to put up a persona that you ‘think’ the students will like – it doesn’t work. It may take them a bit longer to really understand your dry wit or your quirky personality (just examples, not saying you do/do not possess these traits :) but in the long run it will strengthen your relationships.

    don’t be afraid to be constructively tough in your critiques – the most important thing I learned in school (and try to pass along to students as well) is that you first have to master the rules and then be able to justify breaking them.

    and try to teach to the middle to upper level of your students’ abilities – it may require a little more individual instruction for those that are having a tough time grasping the process, but teaching to the lowest common denominator will stifle and isolate the ones that do ‘get it.’

    and for heaven’s sake, be comfortable – think about how long you’ll be standing – whether you will be reaching up to write on whiteboards etc and dress accordingly – and if it’s your first time, wear lots of deodorant and have a bottle of water handy. :)

    good luck and have fun!!!

  7. All these comments so far have been incredibly helpful and insightful. Thank you all so much and keep them coming! Yay! I love my readers!

  8. On my first day of teaching, I was discouraged because the students seemed disinterested, they were very quiet and unengaged – I took it personally. But, a friend of mine put it best in an email to me: “Students have strange ways of exhibiting what is essentially shyness and discomfort. Don’t get discouraged! Sometime a too-cool-for-school attitude is just their way of hiding crushing nervousness and anxiety.”

    He was totally right.

  9. As adjunct faculty the most important thing I’ve learned is that teaching is not about imparting knowledge, it’s about creating opportunities for learning to occur.

    At first I taught the material. By communicating situations and considerations students would encounter, I deprived them of the experience of naturally coming across issues that require situation.

    Put another way: learing occurs by solving problems, not by knowing how to prevent them.

  10. If someone isn’t “getting it”, try explaining it in terms of something they might already understand. I can’t remember any off hand that I used when teaching HTML but when I was teaching sewing to men, I related things to carpentry which they already understood and so they were able to grasp the concepts I was teaching easier.
    This is what the parables in the Christian bible were all about, Jesus was trying to teach something new by starting with something they already understood. It is a good technique. :)

  11. Like me, you’re probably a fanatic. But there is one talk on ted that I recommend more than any other.

    “Schools Kill Creativity” given by Sir Ken Robinson.

    After seeing this talk, I read his book and went to see him live, twice. He has some very simple but profound thoughts on education and creativity.

    I don’t know if this will help but I’m sure you’ll love it.

  12. I’ve been a teacher for about 4 years. Before that, I was a part-time teacher. I’ve taught adults, elementary kids and Kindergarten kids.

    I don’t have any experience teaching at a university though. I love teaching kids, especially young ones. They are funny, naive and good hearted. At a certain age, kids become rebellious and more difficult to deal with. Grade 3 and 4 tend to be problem years. Teaching becomes more of classroom management than actual teaching.

    Good luck with your class.

  13. I am a teacher. Its stressful with alot of boost…Only advice i can give it is not what you teach its how you teach it….

  14. I’ve been teaching design and technology PT for 7 years. It’s FANTASTIC. My biggest piece of advice is don’t be afraid to share your professional experience. This is the biggest thing non-full-time academic instructors have to offer and students REALLY appreciate it. Second piece of advice is to just have fun.

  15. I was a teaching assistant in grad school and I was shocked to struggle with the distribution of talent, motivation, skills, and effort. Some students will be incredible, some will appall you in how unfocused and terrible they seem. You have to accept that you’re not there to save every student, try to connect with one or two, and then go home.

  16. Be aware of two things regarding time:

    1. It is really hard to plan the schedule. Sometimes you have too much to say, sometimes digressions take over and sometimes a topic seems to be so obvious that it is hard to develop it into a proper class. It pays to have a plan (or visual presentation) and be aware of its timing (for example, in the case of traditional lecture with many PowerPoint slides I give myself 2-5 minutes per slide).

    2. Attention of the class varies. Varies among students and time. You have to be open minded, witty and give many examples in order to grip attention.

    Good luck!

  17. I taught architectural design studio last year. An old hand told me “Say three positive things for every one negative thing”.

  18. I used to teach English as a second language. If someone asks you a question you don’t know, just tell them you don’t know, and say you’ll find out for next time (then you can either start or end the next lesson by answering said questions).

    Good luck, Tina.

  19. What stands out for me was realizing I can’t possibly try to teach them everything because 1) i don’t know everything 2) they can’t be expected to know everything 3) quality over quantity is best in most cases.

    Also, don’t be afraid to say, “I’m not an expert in (subject). But I’ll do my best to figure out a solution to what issues you come across.”

    I think the students respect you more when they see you are human and make mistakes just like them.

    Hope that helps!

  20. Set expectations on the first day about attendance, promptness, cell phone use etc… Be positive whenever you can without sounding trite. Model how to talk about design and encourage the students to articulate their opinions. Show as many examples of as many design/ art things as possible. Introduce history and language as design tool. Communicate your enthusiasm about your own practice and the work of others. Do not try to be friends with your students or go out for drinks with the class. Wait till they are no longer your students.

  21. Look up two things!

    Learning Styles (I like Kolb’s Model of Experiential Learning), &
    ARCS motivational design but you can choose your own most comfortable theory as they mostly all say the same thing in different ways – that is, people learn differently. The simplest explanation is people learn by seeing, hearing, or doing.

    Understanding learning styles will help you present the information in ways everybody can assimilate. Kolb says that learning is in stages: watching / thinking / doing / feeling.

    ARCS stands for:
    Attention – get their attention
    Relevance – answer “what’s in it for me?” .. for them
    Confidence – make them believe they can do it
    Satisfaction – reward appropriately

    Best of luck!!!

  22. I taught graphic design at the Tyler School of Art for five years and am going into my third semester teaching illustration/design at the University of the Arts.

    I would say the most important thing is to be as clear as you can with the students as to what is expected of them.

    I always put together a slide show for each project of both professional work and the best student work that relates to each project. This takes a massive amount of time (which is the second most important thing, prep work ALWAYS takes way longer than you think it will!) but it will prove invaluable to the students. I have an FTP site that students can download my presentations from (as well as the class handouts should they lose them) if they want to.

    I am very specific in my handouts for each project with what is expected each week. How many concepts? How many versions/compositions for each concept? What level of sketch/finish (pencil? b&w printout? full color mockup? etc) There will always be students that do just the bare minimum so figure out what that needs to be.

    Finally, be sure to draw attention to the best work in the class and let them know why it’s successful. You should never hold back criticism, but keep in mind students are eternally defensive, so ultimately they are more receptive to why something works rather than why it doesn’t.

  23. Hi Tina,

    I teach graphic design at RISD for undergraduate students, as well as have taught many Continuing Education classes and other undergrads at other institutions as well. You are responsible for a lot as an educator, so my advice in no particular order is (pardon me if this gets disjointed):

    1. Exposure: You should be exposing your students to as much as possible as often as possible, while still retaining focus on the primary subject matter. One of the best things I got out of my education was the opportunity to see, read, watch, listen, etc. to tons of stuff I would not have been aware of otherwise. I think it is in the best interest of a teacher to bestow as much exposure to students as possible, even if only tangentially related to the primary subject matter. Every class I teach gets a giant 3+ page reading list of books related and unrelated to graphic design, and at least a couple of lectures on topics that have only a passing relationship to the main topic of the class.

    2. Presence: You should be confident in how you present yourself to the class. Students learn best when they believe they are listening to someone who knows what they are talking about and acts like it. I am not saying arrogance, I am saying confidence and authority. I tell every class that just because I say something it is not necessarily the only right answer, but it is probably useful somehow. I also show every class on the first day my own work and website as I personally would want to know who is teaching me, and what they are capable of.

    3. Respect: You must have immense respect for your students. They are there for themselves, NOT for you. I also try to teach to the upper edge of the class and what I have found is that students invariably rise to the occasion, as opposed to “dumbing down” material to hit the middle of the bell curve. Students like to be challenged, but not to be belittled by confusing material of a lot of obfuscation in terms of concepts and goals. I also believe in very firm polices on tardiness, absences, and deadlines.

    4. Clarity: Have a weekly schedule, have a defined idea of what will be covered on each day and what the ultimate deliverables are for the class and for each project. Have milestones of where students should be in terms of progress on each project. Having said all of that, be prepared to radically alter the schedule if things change, if something needs more or less time than you anticipate, etc.. My syllabi have clear schedules in them with a big “THIS MIGHT CHANGE” at the top of each page.

    5. Opportunity: I like to try and structure projects that are doable within the given parameters of the class, but also offer enough room to give students an opportunity to really run with the projects if they choose to. I try not to have projects with hard limits so that if some students want to really explore they can. I strongly encourage students to be as experimental and risky as they can be. I try set requirements but I also tell them if they have a good reason to break the rules, they should (with prior approval of course.)

    6. Critique: Especially in design rather than technical classes, critique is really the core of every class. What I have found (and this is hard) is that the “happy sandwich” a lot of people suggest you use in critique (something good / something negative / something good) is actually not as important as not coddling students. While I make no effort to be mean, or Gordon Ramsay-ish in any way, I do believe that comments about what is needing improvement are infinitely more valuable than pats on the back about what is good. I guess what I am saying is that having the students think you are an easy teacher who is super-nice is not as valuable than having them think you are a bit of a hardass who drives them to do good work. I know this all sounds really obvious but it is difficult to give tough but needed critique sometimes.

    7. Mentoring: I generally try and take an attiude of a mentor to my students. I encourage them to talk as a class about things outside of the course itself (How do you get clients? Do I need contracts? Should I buy my typefaces? etc…) as well as allow conversations to go off track. I let them know about any jobs I have heard of or lectures they should go to, etc…

    I am sure I am forgetting a number of major things, but I hope this helps a bit!

  24. It’s been a while, but for every hour you’re in the class/studio you’ll probably spend 3 or 4 hours prepping…

  25. 12 students. I showed up to teach sustainable design to third year interior design students and had 57 of them and could never get their names, so marking their performance in class was impossible.

    Learn all of their names, fast.

  26. I got 11 years behind me, and this is what i can tell you

    1. It will take more time than what you think it will be.

    2. going off on tangents are ok. and sometimes fun and make a great class.

    3. make it personable and have fun!

  27. #1 rookie mistake:
    Trying to teach the whole course in the first class.

    Enjoy! It’s a great experience!

  28. I think the above comments have some great insights into what goes into the personality and vibe of a good class.

    As far as *how* to instruct, there are plenty of interesting learning theories out there. Each one addresses the process of how an instructor can create a solid instruction. Usually they are made up of the same basic steps: engage the student, present the material, and then elicit performance from them so the instructor can evaluate whether or not the material has been absorbed.

    One of my favorites “check lists” when planning an instruction is from R. Gagne and his “Nine instructional events”

    (1) gaining attention from the learner(wake them up and get them interested with a fun opener)
    (2) informing learners of the objective (set their expectations of this specific instruction)
    (3) stimulating recall of prior learning (prime the pump by having them recall something they already know that relates to the lesson)
    (4) presenting the stimulus (give the basic definition of the subject you are presenting)
    (5) providing learning guidance (provide examples and tools that helps the learner incorporate what you just presented into their noggin)
    (6) eliciting performance (get the learner to provide an example(s) of the material to show they got it)
    (7) providing feedback (check the learner’s example against your definition)
    (8) assessing performance (provide a crit to the learner)
    (9) enhancing retention and transfer (zoom out to show how the lesson is applicable in a larger sense: show similar examples from the real world, explain its relevance to bigger subjects).

  29. Never forget to motivate your students. Students need structure otherwise the get lost. Give yourself structure as well. Plan ahead and let them know what wil be goin on. Explain and discuss a lot. Be a good listener. Critize. You need to be demanding – the students wil love you for that – at least when the course is over and they realize that they benefitet from your experience. Respect your Students.

  30. I taught high school for five years, and the best advice I can give is – if you’re excited, they’ll be excited. And I can tell already you are plenty excited.

  31. yeah, i will start a part – time teaching period within few weeks too! for the first time in my life i will experience some students, here in istanbul, bahcesehir university, about furniture design! i am excited.lets share experiencies- multicultural – here on your blog!

  32. This is what I learned… Just because I am speaking it does not mean the students are understanding it. When you first start you may feel the urge to blow through a lot of material very quickly. Slow down! With each point you are making, stop and ask the students in their words what they understand from what you have just said or demonstrated (without using their notes). Remember, teaching is not learning. Judging (assessing) is not learning. Only learning is learning. Instead of thinking of yourself as being a teacher, think of yourself as being responsible for the students learning. If they don’t learn it from your first attempt, just be the outstanding designer that you are – iterate until you get the desired behavior. Good Luck. Being the person who helped someone learn something is very gratifying.

  33. Teach slowly. It is about students actually understanding, not about teachers showing off all they know. If there is one single concept that they actually get, you would be successful. Understand their perspective and tailor the class exercises to meet their needs. Listen carefully, and slowly answer all the questions. Even if it means that you will not have time to complete your planned class — good answers to their questions are the more important thing for them. Also, the first day, draw a sketch with their seating arrangement and their names. They typically sit in the same spot in every class, so impress them the second class by greeting each one of them by name, individually.
    Good luck, this will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

  34. I am also starting my first semester of teaching at California College of the Arts here in San Francisco. I have taught younger students and served as a Teaching Assistant during my graduate studies. The best advice I can give is prepare a well written clear syllabus, stay organized and don’t be afraid to let the class be a bit organic and let it diverge from the syllabus if it seems to be a fruitful area. Invite your students to be curious and ask questions. And don’t try to do everything yourself. If a student is struggling or have questions you can’t answer provide them with several resources in which they can pursue their own answers. Have fun!!!!

  35. Hi, my name is Alex and I m from portugal and my advice for you is:

    be confident, act natural, admitting what that you don’t know everything.
    And don’t let the students smell your fear or anxiety. And in fact exist a line teacher/student don’t cross it or let the others to cross it.

    Have a trust, creative environment, but… you are the “boss” they aspect that from you. To point directions!

    have fun! because you will learn much!

    Best regards.

  36. On a practical note: a 19 year old student was born in 1990.

  37. Hi, my sugestion:
    Even before start teaching some issue, first start trying that your students really feel the need of knowing that issue for fulfiill some need, like the classic exemple of a young kid “why do I need maths? Booring”

  38. Hi Tina,

    Why not think about each lesson as a design problem? I tutored High School History students for a short time and mocked up weekly posters to frame discussion. The posters may not have been great design pieces, but I believe were effective in creating interest and in thinking about the subject differently.

    As a student, I enjoyed instructors who were creative, spontaneous and approachable. Mostly, I liked instructors who were enthusiastic and were able to make class fun.

    / Jeff

  39. Tina,

    How wonderful, I wish I could be in your class :-) I have taught several college classes in Psychology, so a bit different from design. Here are some of my insights. I have read most of the posts above and try not to repeat, sorry if I did:

    – It might be really nice to allow for thorough introductions at the beginning while keeping it light (how about quick design of a business card with name and 3 characteristics). Would it help to address common road blocks (competition, jealousy, fear of receiving and giving feedback, and ask for their ideas as to how to overcome these issues, maybe make a list of rules together with the students as to how crits will be approached?).

    – I’d say, let the STUDENTS do a lot of the work out of respect of whom they are and what they know. Even if they are “only” nine-teen, they will know so much, and it will be so enriching for you to hear about all their experiences and all the ideas they have. Be curious and ask them questions.

    – Do you remember what were the best qualities in teachers you had… ? Who were your favorite teachers and mentors? What did they do well? Imagine them teaching the class with you. What would they say / do in specific situations?

    – Don’t “waste” too much of your and their time lecturing :-). I know there is a lot of prep work involved and you have important things to say, but oddly enough, during the one semester I did my best teaching, I was in fact somewhat unprepared, finishing up my dissertation and working full-time. So I decided to take a radical approach and let the students teach each other through group work and class discussions (which I joined, of course). I had them share resources at the beginning of every class, they wrote a reflection paper about every class at the end and passed it on to someone else. I probably lectured 15 minutes per 3 hours of class… They evaluated themselves, graded each others papers, etc. And I got incredibly positive feedback for this particular class.

    – Possibly ask students at the beginning of class to formulate for themselves what they want to learn. Formulate a (informal) contract as to how you will contribute to their learning and what they need to do to reach their goal. Allow for different types of evaluations throughout as to where their learning stands: self, peer, yours, guests, etc.

    – It might help to envision what it means not to know and share the process of you thinking about and making design with your students, i.e., think aloud, it will be incredibly interesting for them to hear about your thought processes.

    – Simulate real world experiences – teamwork, limited-time assignments, etc.

    – Maybe use what they already know and do: FB, twitter, etc.

    – Integrate some art marketing skills?

    – And finally, I recommend that you teach from your heart. About what design means to you, infused with your passion. Won’t ever be wrong.

    Best wishes, you will be so great. And remember, the first time teaching is always hard, and it is a process of learning.

    Monica Bigler
    St.Gallen / San Francisco

  40. my best teachers were tough but fair. I don’t know if every student appreciates this, but I appreciated the 9/10. the B+.

    There’s always room for improvement, even with things that are great.

    BUT – as tough as they were, they were also honest and approachable about any questions or problems I might have.

    Best of luck :)

  41. 1. Be enthusiastic about what you are teaching – choose topics that YOU like and tell students what is important for you.
    2. Do not pretend to be someone else, just be yourself!
    3. Be consequent and tell the truth!

    P.S.: Do not worry! I would love to have a teacher like you :) All the best, MsTea from Hungary

  42. i only have experience with teaching for adults over 50 and over the years i had to change my approach:

    – it’s normal that not everyone will get the full picture, so instead of teaching, try to inspire (relax, shine, do what you normally do)
    – when having fun, you learn more: make it fun
    – choose 10 topics and know that you only will have time for 5 (but they will be fun)
    – spent as little time as possible at explaining: everytime you give them answers, they will listen, not learn
    – standing in a classroom, you are in charge: you may do everything that is needed to (change the setting, get equipment, take several breaks, invite other people, get a cup of coffee, go outside, divide your group into 3.5,…), and doing so you, your students will enjoy YOUR class
    – and finally, give yourself time to improve, you will

    all the best!

  43. Hi Tina, I started teaching typography evening classes part time on a polytechnic school 5 years ago. Like you I had no educational experience before that. My advice would be not to be daunted by the thought of having to fill long stretches of time with interesting stuff. Just be confident that as long as you’re talking about something you’re interested in yourself, or even passionate about, it will be interesting to listen to automatically and time will fly.
    Furthermore, consider dogmatically to pay as little attention as possible to those who are not motivated. This directs your effort towards the students who are enthousiastic and will also inspire you. This may not be greeted with applause by school management, but in the end, it will pay off.
    Another idea: I use a beamer to display specimens and instructions, but in addition I encourage students to e-mail typographic curiosities (like a class ffffound) and display those as well, as a desert or starter. This encourages interesting conversations in class. It is a great way to involve students. Sometimes they will compete with eachother with ever more surprising oddities.

  44. Oh my goodness! I am a student at Parsons, but of course I am studying abroad at Parsons Paris this semester. Please, please, please tell me you will be teaching next semester? I would love to be in your class. Being a student at Parsons I’ll tell you this make sure you ask students what they are used to on the first day. I’ve seen students go absolutely mad because the prof didn’t give us our 15 minute break like other teachers do. Other then that I know must of us Parsons kids like group work, class discussions, we like being put into an experience, being forced to think out of our usual limits and expectations, also we despisssse lengthy monotone presentations (not that yours would be anything like that but, you know)… so either make them interactive or keep them short and sweet. Make sure to give a background about yourself. It always makes it more interesting when you know little tidbits about your prof, it makes for a more personal relationship that can really help us trust you and allow for us to accept criticism easily. GOOD LUCK!!

  45. Good luck with the course, I would second the recommendation for Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk.
    Also, have a look at this video from Michael Wesch, he start the talk by relating the challenges he faced when he began teaching.

  46. Im not sure if this has ben mention (theres ALOT of comments already) but in my experience students can sometimes take the word “Critique” to mean criticize. I think its really important for all crits to be with a positive focus of how to improve work, not just point out the problems. Too much criticism can be very damaging to the confidence of a young student.

  47. Oh, yeah. Another thing: read ‘The Cheese Monkeys’ by Chip Kidd, if you haven’t already. Good luck and have fun!


  48. In business they say the customer is always right. Well I’ve found in teaching, the customer (student) is not always right. And you are better served to remember that you are the expert. This is not to say that you must be a draconian headmaster. Just don’t forget your lesson plan and don’t let it get sidetracked by the inevitable know-it-all in your class. You will have time to reflect on your lesson plan and revise it after the course completes. Also, the class will run as fast (or slow) as the slowest student. Work your lessons so they can degrade gracefully for those students so they won’t be stuck with feeling left behind, and so you can keep everyone else on track.

  49. Hi there all, I’m a graphic design teacher here at Buenos Aires University, Argentina. I’m in front of ~30 students, not getting paid at all (‘ad honorem’). I think what I’ve learnt in these years is that sometimes, there are just a few concepts to teach in a whole year, the trick is to approach them from as many differents POV as possible. The rest of the nitty gritty they will learn it later.
    Andres., Argentina

  50. Thank you so much everyone. Your answers have blown me away. Thoughtful, smart, insightful and encouraging. *WOW*! I am sending each one of you a ‘virtual hug’!

  51. forgive me for repeating anything, I skipped straight to comment…

    The best thing you can do is engage your students from day one. Give them some info about you, be personable, approachable, yet not too friendly. Give an exercise where you can measure each of their abilities immediately and this will help you to develop your course from there. Every class and year will be different!

    Teaching is very rewarding and I find that you’ll always be following up with former students just to see where they’ve gone and what they’ve done. The best thing that ever happens is when a student comes back to thank you, especially the difficult ones you were hard on. Which leads me to say… don’t be afraid to give challenges!

    Best of luck!!!


  52. I’m in the program at Parsons and took the class you are going to teach last semester. It’s one of the classes in the program that has the most potential to be incredibly useful and interesting. However, most of the students I know left feeling somewhat disappointed but still wanting to learn more (like me). My best advice is to plan a good structure in your lessons and stay on track. We expect to get timely feedback on our work to know where we stand (but we didn’t always get around to it) so that we could improve our projects some more. I think it’s important to encourage or require the other students to offer their critique as well. My class was kind of loose at first and it took some students who complained about the lack of structure to get it back on track. Lastly, I also appreciate it when the teacher asks for our feedback at the mid point (students usually get a mid-semester evaluation) about the class and how it’s going and how it can be better.

    What I liked most was learning about the different resources and inspiration that’s out there for graphic/web/interactive/open source design (your site was one of them last semester in a different class). Also important is seeing examples of real work (successes & failures) and class critique. Most of my classes at that point were print focused so this class was my first intro to interactive web and how design can make an impact on improving communication and user experience.

    One thing I must say is that we are really dedicated because our time is so limited in the program and we want to make the most of every class. For most of us, this is either our 2nd career or we already have an undergrad or grad degree under our belt (students are usually over 25 years old). I wish I was taking your class, sounds like it’s going to be a good one! Good luck and remember to just be yourself, based on what I see with your blog, I think you’ll do great.

  53. 2 key comments from Theresa:
    1. Students were left wanting to learn more.
    2. Students learned about resources.

    My father, a teacher for most of his life, always insisted it came down to motivation. “Make a kid curious, and show him where the library is.”

  54. »Teaching is a matter of asking the right questions.« Alan Fletcher

    Vielleicht geht es in der Lehre zuerst einmal um die Hinterfragung von vorhandenen Einstellungen, Vorstellungen und auch Arbeitsweisen. Die Fragen sollen idealerweise initiieren, motivieren und inspirieren. Es geht nicht darum, auf jede Frage eine Antwort parat zu haben. Es geht um den Weg, um den Prozess, der zu Antworten führt. Die Suche nach Antworten regt zum Denken, zum Machen und zu eigenen Erfahrungen an – und die selbstgemachten Erfahrungen sind die wertvollsten.

    Viel Glück!

  55. I’ve been an adjunct for 5 years, teaching web design and technology courses. I’ve learned:

    1) A student with “issues” often has nothing to do with me or the material. If I can find out what it is that they think they need, they often become unstuck. I ask “What is it you need to succeed in this class?” Works every time.
    2) Be yourself. If you stumble – it’s ok. Everyone does. A little humility goes a long way.
    3) Find out why students are taking your class – write it down or have them write to you. Work to help they achieve whatever goal they’ve set.
    4) Have fun. Teaching is a fantastic way for YOU to learn, too.

  56. Hey! Welcome to teaching. I’ve been teaching (mainly Flash) part time at Parsons for over 8 years. I love it there. I’m sure you will too. Would love to meet some time if our schedules allow it.
    One thing I always remind myself when going into the classroom is, just about everything I have to teach is new to my students.

  57. Tina,
    Hats-off to your readers; there’s an amazing diversity of experience and insight in the posts above. You’re going to be challenged, separating the outstanding advice from the really-really good advice (grin).

    I’ve been teaching production and pre-press courses part-time for 15 years, at MacEwan College in Edmonton, Alberta. As you can imagine, my curriculum has seen many changes over that time, in an effort to reflect changes in hw, sw, best practices, process, etc. I offer the following humble thoughts as I reflect on my journey:

    1. Give students ownership of their craft.

    2. Practice and encourage the process of “design thinking” as often as possible. Be obvious, at first. Help the students to recognize their own.

    3. Encourage studio-environment professionalism in your class. Many students, particularly if they’re new, won’t fully understand what this means. Explain some ground rules; edit as needed.

    4a. Adult learners often have difficulty asking questions, particularly if they believe it’s a “stupid” question. One of my “Item 3 ground rules” is: There are no stupid questions in this class.

    4b. Resist the temptation to ask “does anyone have any questions?”. They almost never do. I’ve found better success with the following: “Now… give me your questions.”

    5. Find your inner EduTainer. It’s tough to admit, but I wouldn’t be able to sit still and focus on a four-hour lecture delivered by me. Bring some design “amuse bouche” to every class, and season your lectures according to taste. Encourage students to bring their own. It’s one part show-and-tell, and a digital equivalent of Alan Fletcher’s “The Art of Looking Sideways.”

    6. Everyone is there to learn, including you. Some classes will unfold more elegantly than others; learn from what works well, and what doesn’t. Example: In my early years of teaching I audio recorded my lectures, and listened to them at home. This helped me to develop a better pace and rhythm, and reduce my usage of “Ummm” and “like.” Your mileage may vary.

    OK, enough. Feel free to message me if you’d like to touch base during the upcoming term. I sense your excitement, and know that your students will do the same!

    Namasté and peace-out,


  58. Biggest epiphany about the job: Even if you’re an amazing professor and you love your job, you (may) have absolutely no job security. It makes you question your life path when you have to apply for unemployment while hoping to get classes for the next quarter. Many good professors, including myself, have been forced out of teaching and into private sector jobs.

  59. Hello fellow Parsons faculty!

    Congratulations on your first year of teaching.

    A lot of excellent advice above. I would only stress what a few others have said. Do not take your students’ initial lack of engagement personally. A few ways to get them to talk initially is to give them an assignment to share something they like (something relevant to the class, of course). If Parsons has already given you access to Blackboard and your course list, you can e-mail them an introductory assignment before the first day of class.

    Second, be very clear about expectations and stay organized. I like to give my students handouts for each assignment with clear instructions and my grading rubric.

    Third, do not ever let them get away with using their cell phones in class. Ever. I know it sounds like a simple thing, but I’ve subbed for other faculty who seem to be more lenient about that and it’s disgraceful. I make it clear early on that I won’t tolerate it and it leads to a more civil classroom environment. (Obviously the same rule should apply to email if they’re sitting in front of computers.)

    Lastly, I think it’s interesting to mix things up a bit. Consistency is good but they get bored of the same thing each week (as do I). So while we generally have full class discussions, I sometimes split them into groups or pair them up for peer review sessions (to critique each others work). One week I might have them watch and discuss a video in class. Sometimes I decide based on the make-up of my class, so each semester is different.

    Good luck! Let me know if you need anything.


  60. There’s a book in this post! I couldn’t say it better than has already been said.

    Mitch Goldstein: “Exposure….I think it is in the best interest of a teacher to bestow as much exposure to students as possible, even if only tangentially related to the primary subject matter”

    Thomas: “if you’re excited, they’ll be excited”

    David:”Being the person who helped someone learn something is very gratifying”

    And everything ABG said.

  61. As a design student, I always felt a little frustrated that most of our critiques happened at the end of a project when we couldn’t really make changes, which made the presenter more defensive of their work instead of becoming better listeners and critiquers. Mid-project critiques are important in the design process, helps loosen up students’ design thinking/communication skills, and is obviously what happens in the “real world.”

    A great quote I read recently: “Teach the students you have, not the ones you wish you had.”

    Especially when dealing with technology, the most important thing is to teach a student how to learn, how to figure things out, how to have the right questions…since everything is changing so fast anyway. It’s about teaching a way of thinking and sparking the curiosity above and beyond any concrete content/specific skills.

    I’ve been reading a lot this summer, as I’m pursuing a teacher certification. One really good book is by Robert L. Fried called “The Passionate Learner”. He talks about curriculum as relationship, and one of his steps to making sure your evaluations link up to your class goals is: list on a sheet of paper your five top goals for student learning (that they will retain and remember 10 years from now). And he talks about how a course syllabus should clearly outline the performance expectations you have for your students — the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that successful students should gain from your course.

    Good luck. These are great comments and insightful for any teacher or wannabe teacher like myself.

  62. I have been teaching at the college level for the last six months. I find that sharing “real life experience” is what is most appreciated. The hardest part of teaching for me was trying to get back to the basics. There are things we do in our field, things that are second nature to us, but they are things that students just can’t comprehend because they have yet to experience them first hand. Remember that some of the people you will be sharing class time with may have never written a proposal or been on a client call, some may have never stepped foot in a professional creative space or been faced with the challenge of designing something based on someone elses expectations.

    What may seem like common knowledge to you (in the curriculum) may be new to them so don’t skip it, if they express knowledge, simply add an experience or two to make the information more real and move on. Over the first few weeks, you should be able to evaluate where each student stands and go from there… it is a challenge but fun.

    You are a people person, I am sure you will pick it up quickly and be able to provide each student with whatever he/she may need.

    Have Fun! Let me know how it goes xoj

  63. I’m a big believer in foregrounding your teaching objectives. Tell ’em what you’re trying to teach. Enlist the students as a collaborators in their own educations.

    We all know the weaknesses of critiques. Chatty self-congratulation and mutual admiration. Instructor monologues delivering a public grading. Student self-defense over-explaining what they tried to do at the expense of hearing what they actually did. Other students chirping up carelessly (or cruelly) to demonstrate Participation.

    But the tone changes noticeably when we remember what critiques teach us. We’re not there to become critics, although some of us will. We’re there to practise observing work and assessing its strengths and weaknesses. This is the most important skill of a creative practitioner: the ability to judge the progress and accomplishment of a piece of work for ourselves. Because, kids, once you leave the classroom and the shared studio, it’s lonely out there and I’m not in charge, any more, of telling you when it’s good and when it’s bad and when it’s fresh and when it’s done. You are.

    Critiques look like they’re about external validation but they’re really about the gradual transfer of authority from the instructor to the artist. I like to tell ’em so.

  64. Just be yourself! I started teaching at FIT about 1.5 yrs ago and they learn and are challenged most by my passion, experience and enthusiasm for design and marketing. Incorporate real life examples, mess ups challenges along with your core curriculum. Thats what has worked for me. Good luck lady.

  65. Some practical advice from 7yrs experience:

    1) The first day is the most important. Set their expectations to work hard and what the class requires of them. Any hints that you are easy to please will give some students the impression they can slack off with you, and it’s hard to overcome that afterwards. Be inspiring.

    2) I make students wait 24 hours before they can discuss their grade with me. This gives them time to cool off and not emotionally react.

    3) Critique using flickr groups for visual work. It reduces crit time by *hours* and students learn quickly how to give and articulate good feedback through writing.

    Teaching is the best, I’m sure you’ll do great! Congrats!

  66. Hi,

    I have worked as a physics teacher for several years and my advice is that………

    1. Put yourself in the student position and try to explain to the student as if you are explaining to yourself.

    2. Simplicity is a key factor in anything so be simple and clear.

    3. Graphs is one of the most important things in any kind of communications betwen humans.

    4. Be yourself and noone else.


  67. Thanks to all who have posted comments. I have been a part time teacher at a small art school in Boston and continually find it challenging. I have appreciated reading all the advice posted.

    On the flip side, here is an article that NYT did about many of today’s college students and their sense of “entitlement.”

    Best to all you teachers as the school year gets closer….


  68. I teach an architectural design studio at the University of Minnesota –

    Being transparent in your teaching will gain the trust of the students and also make all of your goals clear to them. Tell them what you plan to do and why in clear, concise language.

    I think constraints are very important in setting up any assignment. The students might feel limited at first, but the tighter the constraints, the easier it is for them to work and the better the result.

    I also think it’s important to talk about process. The students need to learn a way to work -how to start, how to become inspired.

    lastly, I think it’s important to talk about their preconceptions and then help them to learn how to see in a new way, so that they can overcome those preconceptions.

  69. I am a former Parsons student. When I was there, the students seemed so uninterested in even being there most of the time. No one wanted to work hard, it was very frustrating. The few teachers that were able to get great work from their students were extremely passionate, driven, full of energy, and sometimes scary. I don’t think you need to go down the scary route, but be firm on when assignments are due. And don’t be afraid to give them a ton of work. I loved being given the impossible task, and then working my a** off to overcome that task. And most of all, don’t give the students who don’t finish their work any leniency, it’s not fair to the ones that have it done on time, and you will just end up not gaining the respect of the students. I hope this helps!

  70. Hi Tina, are you teaching the AAS or the BA class? I’m a 2006 AAS graphic design grad and have to say that at that level (where all my classmates already had Bachelor’s degrees and a lot of us had Master’s as well), we were all very focused and expected a LOT from our classes!
    We were all switching careers and entering the design industry at a later stage (compared to the younger BA grads) and we really all felt that we needed to get as much out of those 2 years as we could, and we were never shy about asking for it :)

    My best advice is to keep it interesting and always expect a thirst for more and many design questions, not always necessarily related to specific subject of the class!

    Parsons was one of the greatest experiences I’ve been through, and there is a lot of talent there, which was always very inspiring to the class and the teachers as well i felt – Best of Luck to you!

  71. I’ve been teaching (part-time) til 2006 and it has been the most successful personal experience I had since I started to work. I wish you the best in your experience and career. And, of course, congratulations for this leading design blog.

  72. I’ve been teaching Flash for the last couple of years and I’ve discovered a few things that might be really helpful. The concept of interactivity/web and the applications that create it are new to most students. As such they will have a multitude of both technical and theory questions which means you will need to know/research/teach a much broader range of content than what you initially expect. So here’s my advise for planning course content and making it through your first few classes (classroom management and ongoing style will work itself out)

    1. Plan for double the content for your first few classes. For example if you have an hour class plan two hours of content. I’m not saying to add lots of topics but expect that you will run though what you have to say much more quickly than you intended. Chalk the speed up to your nervousness or your better understanding of the subject matter but remember that this is new to most of your students and you’ll need to go into much more depth than you would when explaining it to yourself. I’ve found there’s nothing worse than having half the class time remaing and nothing to say…

    2. Find & Plan multiple ways to describe/explain a subject or process. Very few people learn through the same process but its natural to try to teach the same way you personally learn. I’d suggest writing multiple examples and analogies into your class notes so that when the “I don’t get it” arrives you’ll have additional resources without having to ponder it for a while.

    3. Be willing to admit when you don’t know something. Say you’ll do some research and find out. Then make sure you follow up and provide the answer either via email or the next class. Your students will respect you more for being able to find/help them find the answer than simply knowing it all.

    4. Based on #3 round up a list of resources (I use blogs, forums, twitter users, etc) that provide information on your topic and then introduce your students to these resources. By doing so you are allowing your students to take control of their own learning through content that you deem appropriate instead of forcing them to sift through Google results until they find something that “might” answer their questions.

    5. Most importantly, CARE about your students, desire to help them be their best but at the same time remember that you can’t force learning so don’t take it personally if some of your students decide not to engage with you or the subject matter.

    Best of luck and I hope you enjoy teaching, I think you’ll be surprised how much more of a benefit teaching will be to your life and career simply because of what it will teach you.

  73. I am *humbled* by all the fantastic advice you’ve shared. Thank you!

    I also just rediscovered and amazing article that I’ve linked to in the past, by Allan Chochinov:

  74. I just started teaching my first intro to informatics and computing class today too. Best wishes to you!

  75. I’m always nervous in the first day and I’ve been doing it for 15 years ;)
    Here’s a classic from MIT’s Patrick Winston on How to Speak: it’s more relevant for the lecture format, but every class is part lecture format and part informal interaction.
    Good luck!

  76. Congratulations on Your new adventure in teaching. One Simple yet important note that you may have now realized but i will state anyhow!

    “I Learn and Discover once a day from your visions, You have been a Teacher to me for 3 years now and i don’t plan on graduating this blog of a school any time soon” – Justin Snyder

    You have taught me inspiration, thought, rhythm, discussion, intelligent design, web and blog design, writing, and you have taught me something that I had been taught all my life and will never take for granite and that is “sharing” and You as a humble teacher have shared and taught so much with your SWISSmiss blog that you have made me see the clearitey and the understanding in what it is to share with the art community and design community around us, and through this we will learn from each other and push each other to explore beyond what we sometimes will not reach alone!

    So when stepping in to your room of students and while planning what code and what step to do next, remember that the inspiration process on top of the technical aspect of designing a website is what will get them to the next level after they have learned the details. And if you can make them understand this, then you will have made an impression that will stick with these students long after there substitute teacher has gone away!

    Sorry My comment is so, long. I guess I was just surprised to see your post, but as I have written this comment it has also dawned on me ever so more that “you are asking your own community for advice and opinions” Thus again, a perfect lesson to teach your web-design students. Always feel comfortable in not being content with your work and look for inspiration and knowledge from those around you!

    Take Care, good luck swissmiss!

    Justin Snyder

  77. I just completed my first stint of part time teaching, 6 weeks of design studio class, which I really enjoyed. I’m still a novice teacher but my recommendation is this: be generous with your time. I made myself available on email to answer students questions outside of class, I was worried students would abuse this but none did. Apart from providing much needed help to specific questions, I think this made some students feel that I was committed to them and they put in extra effort because they didn’t want to let me down.

  78. Ich erlaube mir deutsch zu schreiben, denn so kann ich es besser. Vorerst möchte ich deinen blog loben, SwissMiss ist so interessant, so voller Überraschungen, jederzeit, wenn ich rein schaue finde ich etwas sehr anregendes. Vielen Dank dafür!

    Das ist auch der Grund warum ich auf diese Frage reagieren möchte, denn jemand der durchs Leben mit so viel Aufmerksamkeit geht, alles wahrnimmt, was designrelevant ist oder sein könnte und auch noch so intelligent und witzig kommentiert, der ist als Lehrer geboren! Und das ist sicherlich bei dir der Fall. Eine meiner immerwährenden Ermahnungen an den Schülern oder Studenten ist und bleibt: Augen auf, nur so kann man Designer werden.

    Ich selber habe eher zufällig mit dem Unterrichten angefangen. Habe Industrial Design studiert und lange im Gebiet der Designgeschichte gearbeitet, da speziell über den Grundkurs Bauhaus und HfG. Seit über 20 Jahren arbeite ich am HfG-Archiv Ulm und so fing ich an praktische Farbkurse nach Josef Albers zu geben. Daraufhin habe ich vor sieben Jahren eine Teilzeitstelle am Kolleg für Grafik-Design in Ulm bekommen, wo ich Grafik-Design und Typo Grundlagen unterrichte.

    Was ich dazu sagen kann: Das Unterrichten selber war meine beste Schule, die Lust den Anderen etwas zu zeigen und gespannt sein auf was sich daraus entwickelt. Ich bin immer und überall auf der Suche nach Anregungen für meinen Unterricht, so tauchen die Ideen auf, wie von selbst – z.B. auch wenn ich SwissMiss durchforste. Und die Aufgaben bringen ihre Methoden mit sich, das ergibt sich, so auch meine Erfahrung. Ich wünsche Dir sehr viel Freude bei deiner neuen Aufgabe und sicherlich viel Erfolg!

  79. hi Tina! I just graduated from Parsons – I’m so happy to hear that you are teaching there. I think Parsons could really benefit from having you on staff!

    good luck wtih everything – the thing i enjoyed the most in classes was learning about my teacher’s personal experiences in the design field! don’t be shy about talking about yourself!!

  80. For the first comment since 2009 – but for the communal knowledge – I’ll add that grading also takes far more time than you’d expect. Build as much into the syllabus with the exact expectations are and how it will be measured. Personally, I think school would be better off with: I’d hire you. I’d not hire you. I’d hire you under these conditions.

    I also told my students that responding to emails was part of their participation grade. Oddly, that felt a bit like pulling teeth despite telling them repeatedly all the good things that have happened to me in terms of jobs because I am a responsive emailer. In the future I’d make them write an essay on it to help it sink in (just for this particular class). Also, particularly for undergrads, it’s important to spell out exactly how you expect work/files to be submitted. The obvious is not always so obvious if no one has ever taught you it, or explained the rationale behind it. Personally I had assignments submitted through Google Drive and DropBox to mimic what would be a real-life working environment, rather than using the academic platforms such as “Blackboard.”

    Another tip I was given by my program director was to have projects that continue throughout the semester (a red thread, if you will). She also warned me that the first time you teach a class it’s never going to be perfect. While I think my students were happy enough, there is so much I’d change in the future if I’m to teach it again. Ironically, it was the things I thought they’d struggle with that they excelled at, and the “easy” stuff (ie. responding to emails) that was not so intuitive.

    As a teacher you definitely learn just as much from your students as they learn from you!