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It’s inevitable that teaching problems will pop up each semester, though some issues are bigger than others. Finding solutions on the fly can be tough, so I thought I’d offer a few solutions to common teaching problems that I definitely encounter pretty often. Going in prepared to deal with these issues makes teaching a lot easier, especially during your first few years teaching. Here are five teaching problems and multiple ways to go about solving them.

"In addition to having a syllabus, add a FAQ section to your course LMS website that is easy to see and/or find." #AcademicChatter Click To Tweet

Teaching Problem 1: Your students keep asking questions that can be answered by the syllabus.

Solution 1: Along with going through the syllabus thoroughly in class during the first day, give students a syllabus quiz at the end of that first week or the beginning of the second week. The points can go towards a participation grade or be completely ignored as far as the grading system goes. The main goal here is to tell students about the quiz so they study for it by reading the syllabus thoroughly and asking you questions about anything that confuses them.

Solution 2: In addition to having a syllabus, add a FAQ section to your course LMS website that is easy to see and/or find. In this section, include the most commonly asked student questions and their answers. Make clear that all these answers can be found in the syllabus, so if they have any questions not listed in the FAQ, they should read the syllabus first before asking you. Have the syllabus linked right there, so students can go to it immediately.

Solution 3: Here’s a video where I go over my approach to teaching on the first day of class. There’s a third potential solution included in it:

Teaching Problem 2: Some of your students are struggling with your class, but they aren’t coming to your office hours.

Solution 1: I read about this on Twitter and absolutely loved the idea. Rather than call your office hours “office hours,” call them “student hours” and tell your students that these hours are specifically reserved for meeting with students and answering their questions. Your students might think they are intruding on your time if they go to your office hours. Make clear to them that you WANT them to come to your hours, especially if they are struggling with course material.

Solution 2: Replace one class period with meeting each student one-on-one in your office (15 minute segments). Use these short, individual conferences to get students to your office and demonstrate to them what kinds of conversations and work can be done during an office hour or meeting that they set up. I talk more about this solution in my video about communicating with shy students.

Solution 3: Assign a quick activity that requires students to submit something that’s related to an important class task or skill. For example, I have my students write a mini analysis on a short story during the first few weeks of a literature class. Collect this activity and see which students are really struggling with the skill you were testing for. After giving back their responses to this activity with any level of individual feedback that you’d like, tell your students that you’ve emailed specific students who you’d like to meet in person to go over the activity in more detail. Also tell your students that you’d love to offer more individual feedback to any student; they’d just need to pass by your office/student hours or set up an appointment to meet. In these meetings, try to not only help these struggling students better grasp the task/skill, but also make clear to them that you’re there to help them on any task, small or large, in the future.

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Teaching Problem 3: Your class discussions usually involve just a few vocal students, rather than a large portion of your class.

Solution 1: Here are six class discussion activities that you can use to liven up class discussions:

Solution 2: The fishbowl activity described in the above video requires every student to talk during the class discussion activity. While doing that activity every time would just bore students, you can do a more casual approach to having students speak up during any given discussion day. For example, pulling names out of a hat every so often during a class discussion, but letting students pass on speaking if their name is picked. Letting them pass will decrease student anxiety, while calling on students randomly will give a slight push for these students to speak up. Don’t put the names back in the hat until every student name has been picked. If a student passes, you can try picking one more name or just pick a student who is willing to talk without being randomly called on.

If there really is no way to grade every student's assignment & include individual feedback that will help them with the next assignment, then create a master list of issues to respond to via a whole class discussion, lecture, or… Click To Tweet

Teaching Problem 4: You’re behind on grading and your students need to get your feedback before the next assignment is due (which is really soon).

Solution 1: Here’s a whole blog post on how to grade faster. Check it out for a few solutions to put into place before and during the semester.

Solution 2: If there really is no way to grade every student’s assignment and include individual feedback that will help them with the next assignment, then create a master list of issues to respond to via a whole class discussion, lecture, or PDF. In this way, grading the assignment just requires you to write down a grade, but students still get needed feedback because you’ve written down a list of issues you noticed in their work and have responded to the issues either in class or via a PDF, video, or audio that you post on the LMS site. Of course, let students know that they can see you during student/office hours or via an appointment if they want individual feedback.

Teaching Problem 5: You’re not feeling well, but cancelling class will mess heavily with your course schedule.

Solution 1: If finding a sub isn’t possible, but neither is going to class, make yourself your own sub. How? Record yourself at home in video or audio form, then post that on your LMS site. Have students watch/listen to the recording and then do an activity that requires them to have watched/listened in order to complete the assignment. All of this will need to be completed before the next class period, which hopefully you can attend. I tend to create screen-recordings of a PowerPoint presentation or an activity instruction sheet, but feel free to just record yourself giving a verbal lecture or instructions. With just your smartphone or laptop, you can easily create video or audio files and upload them to your class LMS site.

Note: You can just write out the material and post it on your site, of course, but this can take a lot more time and will be less engaging for students.

Solution 2: If you can’t make it to class and don’t have the energy to make yourself your own sub, then just tweak your schedule. It’s not the end of the world! Your human and humans get sick. Find planned days that aren’t truly necessary for the course learning outcomes, and rearrange the schedule with those days redesigned or cut out completely.

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Final Thoughts

So, I hope you found these solutions to common teaching problems helpful. If you are struggling with other teaching issues, please let me know in the comments below so I can offer some solutions in response! If you have your own solutions to the problems I listed above, definitely share them in the comments, as well! In related news, here’s a Cult of Pedagogy blog post with some other teaching problems and their solutions. If you’re ever in doubt on how to solve a teaching problem, just turn to your colleagues, advisers, or the Internet (I find Twitter to be particularly helpful for this task). Good luck this semester!

Comment Below: What teaching problems or solutions do you have to share with us?

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Here are five common teaching problems and their simple solutions. If you're a teacher or college instructor dealing with certain teaching issues, see if this blog post can fix what's bothering you! #teaching #highered
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