Transitioning to an educator role at the community college or university level can be a challenging, yet exciting time for an experienced nurse. You may be drawn to the career as you earn an advanced degree, or you may be looking for a new career path. Whether the change occurs gradually by working part time for a school or you step right in as a full-time clinical instructor, having someone to help you throughout the first year while you're developing your role is imperative.
You may be part of a program where a mentor is assigned to you or you may be left on your own to find someone who'll take you under his or her wing. Look for fellow educators who've taught a variety of courses with different modalities, and those with whom you're able to share new ideas. Experienced colleagues can be excellent mentors; however, if you're assigned someone who isn't helpful or is somewhat discouraging, it's beneficial to request another mentor. Plan on meeting with your mentor at least weekly in the beginning months and then monthly once you become more experienced. Don't hesitate to ask your colleagues questions as well.
It's important to learn about your school's policies and procedures, so joining a curriculum development task force or committee can help you better understand how the school is managed. Once you're comfortable in your role, you may want to join interprofessional or higher-level committees. Knowing your school's philosophy, mission, vision, and values will give structure to the ways you meet your students' learning needs. Before accepting a job, ensure that your mission, vision, and values correlate with your place of employment.
In this article, we'll review what you need to know as a novice educator, including developing a teaching philosophy, understanding teaching pedagogy, evaluating students, navigating the educator-student relationship, achieving promotion and tenure, and maintaining work-life balance.
Teaching philosophy and pedagogy
Nurses are well-known for our compassion in teaching and some are natural at not only sharing information, but also helping others grasp the information. However, stepping in front of a classroom with the responsibility of ensuring that students understand the information you present can be stressful. Understanding the best practices in content delivery and student evaluation may be overwhelming at first. Developing a teaching philosophy and understanding teaching pedagogy can help.
To develop a teaching philosophy, you should be able to use what you know from the clinical setting and apply it to a teaching model. There are behavioral, cognitive, and constructivism learning theories, as well as various theoretical frameworks. Learning theories can help explain the type of interaction between student and educator while providing structure to the learning encounter. Often, there's a melding of theories that helps give structure to teaching, and your methodology may change with time and experience.
Teaching pedagogy is defined as the art, science, or profession of teaching. When choosing a method of teaching, ask yourself these three questions:
- Why choose this particular method to teach this content?
- Is it the best method for teaching this content?
- How do you know it's the best method for teaching this content?
You may find that some strategies are effective for one group of students and not another. For example, a short, face-to-face lecture with discussion may work well for a small group of students but may not provide the same benefits to a large group of students.
There are many technology tools available to help develop lecture content. Consider the learning platform used by your school. You may have the ability to incorporate video or a voice-over slide presentation to emphasize a particular point. Video, learning glass, and white board presentations are a few of the methods available to create online lectures where you can present information to both in-person and online students. Discussing the content can be applied in exercises that promote student engagement. One such strategy is a “flipped classroom,” where students complete reading material, videos, online modules, and any other prework before class, which is then reserved for applying the material with problem-solving activities in small groups.
You may try multiple teaching methods with good intent to excite your students about the material but become frustrated when they don't demonstrate understanding. Work with experienced educators to see what's been successful for them. Remember that you won't be able to teach everything found in the required text; students have a responsibility to read and study. You'll be there to assist them in understanding the difference between the “need-to-know” and “nice-to-know” information. There are numerous resources to assist you in helping students to success (see on the web).
As a clinical instructor, you may observe a group of nursing students as they learn to assess patients, give medications, and perform appropriate skills or you may follow up with students who are on a precepted model. The tools you use in the classroom will help you guide students through applying the knowledge learned to patient care in the clinical setting. Evidence continues to support the use of simulation as a safe and effective means for students to practice and apply aspects of their classroom information, including communication skills, medication administration, teamwork, and time management. Simulation allows students to make mistakes, learn and grow from those mistakes, and build safe practices and confidence before entering a patient care setting.
Educators can evaluate students in several ways. Formative evaluation occurs during the learning process, whereas summative evaluation occurs at the end of the learning process. In the didactic setting, exams may be used for evaluation. Exam construction is an involved process and requires skills that develop with time and experience. Creating a valid and reliable test takes considerable thought and preparation. To be truly useful, the test should be based on evidence-based practice.
Test writing and item analysis workshops are helpful for developing exams. Bloom's taxonomy, a framework for organizing the cognitive behaviors expected from a student in the educational process, provides a view of the progression of the student's knowledge from basic understanding to content mastery. There are specific guidelines for developing the question stem, the correct answer, and the distractors. Be sure to develop exam content using NCLEX or certification blueprints in such a manner that students can adequately prepare. Blueprints can ensure that the test evaluates specific learning outcomes and the exam aligns with the various learning activities. Ideally, the exam will measure the students' ability to think critically, demonstrate clinical judgment, and apply information learned throughout the course.
Students will provide feedback through course evaluations, but don't feel discouraged by negative comments. Students are often quicker to verbalize their complaints than their satisfaction. You may find it difficult to navigate the balance between the desire for students to like you and showing your strength by being the toughest educator. There should always be professional boundaries that are never crossed, just as in the clinical setting between patient and provider. Working with another experienced educator will help you achieve your desired professional distance.
Incivility and bullying can occur between students, between educators, or between a student and an educator. Disrespectful behavior may present in subtle ways, such as arm-crossing and eye-rolling, or be exhibited through more blatant actions like sending a scathing email, making critical remarks, or belittling others. Bullying occurs when repeated behaviors over time cause harm to another person. Examples include an administrator consistently assigning an unrealistic workload, someone making passive-aggressive comments, or a student consistently arguing about grades or assignments. Education on incivility and bullying may be helpful in dealing with incidents that affect your role as an educator, which will help you prevent the behavior from being disruptive in your job. Consider also that some educators may not realize that they're being uncivil. Examine your own actions to make sure that you aren't guilty of being the bully.
In the academic setting, the stress of nursing school may bring to light a mental health issue for a student who's been undiagnosed in the past. Although the relationship between educator and student is different from that of provider and patient, it's still imperative to recognize mental health problems in students. An educator must encourage the student to get help, and appropriate support services may need to be brought in to assist in the process.
Promotion and tenure
In academia, many educators have 1-year contracts and must prove themselves capable of the job each year. Sometimes the job requirements are abstract and difficult to ascertain, but they become clearer with experience. Most universities require educators to satisfy certain criteria in areas such as teaching, scholarship, service, or other achievements. It's important to know the requirements for each rank and what's expected of you between annual evaluations. Tracking your performance in real time is much easier than trying to recall accomplishments at the end of each year. Keep separate files that are organized for this purpose.
Tenure, most often used for those whose primary responsibilities include teaching and/or research, may boost an educator's confidence. Tenured positions are permanent, which can make you feel more secure in the job. Despite this advantage, some educators feel that tenure is an outdated notion and less important than it once was. Most schools require a doctoral degree to be considered for a tenure-track position.
Many schools of nursing also have clinical and research scientist tracks. Educators in the clinical track teach most often in a clinical setting, and their requirements for promotion and tenure may differ slightly from those in the academic track. This is also true for the educator who continues clinical practice in conjunction with his or her teaching role. The research scientist track is for educators who have an interest in generating new knowledge and then disseminating that information into the healthcare community. Although a doctoral degree is often required for the research scientist track, the clinical track may not have this requirement.
Within these tracks, educators are appointed to the level of instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, or professor. These ranks are earned based on time at the institution and productivity.
One of the challenges you'll face as a novice educator is striking a balance between your work and home life. The transition can seem daunting, especially throughout your first year. As a nurse, you're able to complete your documentation, give your handoff report, and go home. This isn't the case in the world of academia. There are always lessons to prepare, clinical planning, grading, office hours, and emails and messages to check and reply to, not to mention the possibility of doctoral studies. How do you stop and take time for yourself when there are so many things to be done?
Remember how important it is to take care of yourself mentally and physically. When you're unable to meet your own needs, how can you meet the needs of your students? Consider setting limits on the times you'll grade assignments or check your email while at home. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, drink plenty of water, and exercise. Make sure to get an adequate amount of sleep. Take time to go on vacation or even consider a “staycation.” All of these tips will help you as you navigate through your new career.
Challenging, yet satisfying
A career as an educator is challenging, but it's also extremely satisfying. Rather than caring for patients, we're encouraging students in their growth and development into the nursing profession. The students you teach today may be the nurses who care for you in the future.
on the web
American Academy of Nursing:
American Association of Colleges and Universities:
American Nurses Association:
American Organization for Nursing Leadership:
National League for Nursing:
Professional Nurse Educators Group:
Billings D, Halstead J. Teaching in Nursing: A Guide for Faculty
. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2020.
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