A Quick 5 Tips: Surviving Intensive Teaching

My colleagues in K-12 are probably rolling about laughing at the thought that teaching 9-5 is considered ‘intensive’, but in my part of higher ed, teaching 16 hours solidly over a weekend is called intensive teaching. It’s very different from what I normally do so here are my five survival tips. The basic problem that I face is that I have a full day and no spare time – and no easy way to make up time if I lose time.

  1. Know the work
    Yes, bit of a no-brainer but in intensive mode you have no ‘sneak off and look it up’ time. You have to go into each day’s session with either full knowledge of the 7-8 hours ahead or a well-constructed set of reminders, cheat sheets and mnemonics. I use extensive presenter notes to augment my presentations, as well as some easy to read notes that jog my memory. And I’ve taught this course over 6 times now.
  2. Check your presentation gear
    If you are using laptop, projector and slides, make sure that all of them work. Carry your charger, have a spare on USB or the network, know where the bulbs are. Using whiteboard? Have lots of pens, multiple erasers and check the whiteboard quality. Blackboard? Chalk, chalk and more chalk? Flip charts? Spare paper? Spare pens?
    Do you have it? Does it work?
    I run long distances and there’s a saying that you never change your gear for race day. It doesn’t matter if your current shorts are a health and safety violation in four states, don’t put on a brand new untried pair for race day. Chafing that starts at 20 kilometres is a road to agony by 42.
    Your presentation gear and techniques should, for the most part, be your faithful set – your tried and true.
  3. Check your environment 
    In Singapore, I check the rooms for good air conditioning, comfortable chairs and enough workspace. (I teach at a good facility so this is always true) Before teaching, I make sure that the air has been flowing for 30 minutes to cool the room BEFORE the lesson starts. I move chairs out from places where I don’t want students sitting. I align tables to form the collab environment that I want. I move my flip charts or whiteboards around. I set light levels.
    These students are going to be sitting in a room, trying to stay awake and listening to me. I have to make their space work the best that it can for both us. I put up a plan so that students know what they’re doing when and where they’re supposed to be. That’s as much a part of my teaching space as the chairs or tables.
  4. Allow enough time
    I usually allow 30-60 minutes before and after class to give me enough time to set up and get things running, grab a coffee, and minimise my rush. I should be cool, calm, collected and ready to go by the time the first student appears. If a student, after 7 hours, has finally got the courage up to ask me some questions then I have to be available to give them some time outside of the intensive phase and talk to them.
    That’s why I don’t jump on 8pm flight on a Sunday, because I’d need to leave bang on the dot of 5, cutting off any discussion and saying to the students “Well, that was nice, but I have important things to do now.” My students are working as hard, if not harder, than I am to listen, learn, stay alert, program, contribute, collaborate… allowing a little bit of no-rush time either side makes me more approachable and defuses the innate grind nature of the intensive.
  5. Be interesting
    Yeah, sorry, I’m ending with a hard one. I try to involve my class as much as possible in the learning activities. Sometimes this means that I have to be interesting – general information on CS, pertinent stories, anecdotes to engage interest. I try to cheat and bit and get the class to talk to each other, because they have far more in common. Being interesting isn’t about being a showman or a jester, but it does mean being willing to step away from didactic approaches and letting the reins of control slip a little, whether you’re handing over from strict learning to some background colour, or handing over to the class to work together for a while.
    It doesn’t really matter what you do, in many ways, as long as different things happen occasionally and the students know what they’re doing and when.

As I said, my K-12 colleagues do this every day so I’d love to hear from other people how you face these challenges and what you’d suggest to make this task more manageable – or even enjoyable!

One Comment on “A Quick 5 Tips: Surviving Intensive Teaching”

  1. Intensive teaching can be a particularly difficult challenge for new lecturers, but (for the same reasons) really rewarding. In my work with new sessional staff (tutors and lecturers), they focus a lot on preparation as a defence against a lack of confidence. They plan out carefully what they are going to say, what questions they are going to ask, etc, to the point of planning out a script in some cases and reading every single resource that they can.

    It is very hard to do this in intensive teaching, simply from the issue in being able to plan out and remember in that much detail that far ahead. I’m not saying that planning is bad – but over planning can mean that you do not give the students the opportunity to participate fully in your class. It is harder to include real opportunities for discussion and debate, where you are not completely sure where you are going to go.

    So intensive classes can be a great first incentive for a new teacher to throw themselves into new approaches and to realise that they are can handle a more “unfocussed classes”, they almost have no choice. It is at these points where learning some basic classroom management – helping guide and facilitate a class, rather than taking complete ownership of it – can be helpful.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s