Window seat with blanket, pillow, book, drink, and candle
HealthSeptember 11, 2020

Dear self: 2020 vision

By: Kathy Rose, MSN, BSN, RN
Dear Self,
Congratulations! You are in the beginning years of your career as a nursing educator. This is the year 1980 and in 40 years you will be writing a blog hoping to share a little of what you have learned along the way. What’s a blog? Oh, that’s an Internet communication tool that won’t be invented for another decade or so.

Today you are embarking on a journey that will be filled with lessons learned, reality checks and ah-hah moments. One day you will look back and realize that you found your way with a lot of help from your colleagues. Some shared their own best practices. Others showed you what not to do, and you noticed. Store those gems for the future, Self. They will help mold you into an effective teacher and will be a gold mine for you to pass on to future generations.

Friendship

During these first years of teaching, you will make some good friends on the job and they will let you talk about things that are confusing and overwhelming. Several of them will be good listeners and give good advice. The great ones will check on you periodically, encourage you and warn you about potential pitfalls. Be grateful and do this for others when your time comes later in your career.

Self, you will be fortunate to have several other new faculty near your age and you will become great friends. In these early days, there will be no formal orientation process or official mentoring—that concept will be created in the future. But you will be blessed by two seasoned faculty who will make an intentional effort to reach out to the newbies by checking on you frequently, providing direction and giving regular encouragement.

Teaching content

I am sorry, but you won’t be allowed to simply teach what you want to teach and what you are comfortable teaching. You’ll figure out how to focus on what is important and relevant when you examine the program philosophy and course syllabi. Be sure to ask about the corequisite and prerequisite courses that affect your assigned courses. Work to get a picture of how your course is built upon previous courses, then you will be able to prepare students for future courses. Your colleagues will appreciate this. Again, pay it forward.

One of the things you will do right is to check with the previous instructor of the course to see what resources they might recommend. However, when you try to teach from your predecessor’s presentations, it won’t turn out well. Just a heads up.

Unfortunately, there will be no one to show you how to create your own lessons using the syllabus, course objectives and textbooks. But you will discover this on your own using resources from higher education, Self. In fact, a key to your success will be developing a few objectives for each class period. And to make that easier, you will find your textbooks have these types of objectives at the beginning of each chapter! Please keep your focus on those objectives and resist the temptation to teach from the textbook. Trust me on this. I can see your future.

Oh, and one other big reality check, Self. Don’t try to teach the students everything you know. Let’s be realistic—how could you possibly do that? They are already overwhelmed and that might tip them over the edge. Even seasoned faculty will fall into this trap from time to time. Your goal is to train students to be novice nurses, not to be like the teacher!

Teaching skills

During your first year of teaching, you will lecture to the class about the content, Self. Yes, it will be painful for you and the students! Teaching is personal; therefore, you will need to let your passion and personality show in your lessons. You will be inspired by colleagues who have become great instructors. Go observe them teach.

Unfortunately, you and most of your colleagues will gravitate to teaching strategies that align with how you were taught and how you learn best. Self, those strategies may not be best for your students, or for your course objectives. Seek out creative teaching strategies through research, attending conferences and sharing among colleagues (even in other disciplines). Later in your career, you will develop training for new faculty in your own department and have access to another Internet innovation called webinars. Coming soon!

After the first year, you will feel more comfortable in the classroom and begin to use learning activities to help students apply the content. Self, you will draw on your creativity and your research to prepare a nice variety of teaching strategies. And your students will appreciate it! You will discover how much the students love hearing about your own clinical experiences and, in turn, they will want to share examples of their own. Since you already know that nursing is not simply a skill, these interactions will allow you to lead students in application and clinical decision making. Another way to pass it on.

Mentoring

Self, you will quickly learn that students watch faculty like children watch their parents. They will see how you act, how you treat people and what you say. There will be keen observations about how you relate to patients and staff in the clinical area and how you handle questions, especially when you don’t know the answer. Fortunately, a wise faculty member will teach you how to help students answer their own questions instead of allowing them to become dependent on you to answer them. Self, that will be a vital skill for you to learn and will relieve the pressure you put on yourself to know-it-all.

The sharing of wisdom among faculty will be essential to your successful journey as an educator and your colleagues as well. You will conduct your own key observations, such as how faculty give study tips and test-taking strategies during class and how colleagues model good interpersonal relations while sharing clinical examples. Listen carefully when faculty talk about their work, projects and experiences with other faculty and clinical staff. I encourage you to embrace this collaboration.

Self, not long after starting this year, you will have a champion who will invest in you and celebrate your success. Even the simple gestures, like a smile as you go to class, a thumbs-up as you answer a tough question, a listening ear when you are stressed, or a special email saying “Good work!” Remember how this makes you feel. These same strategies will work well with students. Occasionally a student will thank you for helping them understand a complicated process, but they need more encouragement than they can give.

A big ah-ha moment for you will be finding the right balance between mentoring students and your natural desires to care for and nurture them. Self, mentoring students requires a personable and professional relationship, but students don’t need you to be a friend. It will take hard work to set boundaries because you aren’t a trained counselor. Look to your colleagues for guidance, and someday you will help others with your lessons learned, like waiting to connect with students on social media until after they graduate to keep clear boundaries. What’s social media? Well, it’s too complicated to explain now, but it will be an Internet sensation in the future.

Time management

As a novice instructor, you will wonder how your colleagues could be so busy because they only have a few classes to teach and a clinical group. There seems to be so much unscheduled time. Fair warning, it will only take a few weeks for you to see where the time went. Students will be constantly stopping by your office, asking questions, looking for advice, and hanging out. Meetings will be frequent and long-lasting. When will you have time to prepare lessons and review papers and write exams? Soon you will start leaving later in the day, taking work home and grading papers on the weekends. Sorry, but true.

Self, you will learn your lessons about communication. Eventually, you will start closing your office door if you need uninterrupted time to concentrate on something. You will use your body language to signal the end of a conversation with a student or colleague, just like you did with those talkative patients at the hospital. Yes, you will let the phone ring and expect people to leave a message. And email will be a huge time drag. What’s email? Sigh.

At some point in the future, you will be creating files on your personal computer. Just trust me on this, because it’s going to be a big part of your life as an instructor. You will make the mistake of filling your computer desktop with icons for all those files. This is something else that you will learn the hard way so try to create a folder for each course. Like a manila folder, just electronic. (I know, this doesn’t make sense now, but it will later.) Each course folder will have folders for each teaching topic within the course. After several years you will need a folder for each semester, identified by the year, so you can save only files specific to that course and that semester. For example, you will want to save good and not-so-good student papers, a list of final grades, student clinical evaluations and anecdotal notes about student issues and problems. What works for you may not work for others, but you will make up your own system, and it is vital to keep you organized and productive.

And finally, Self, use your nursing instincts on yourself. Nobody will teach you about self-care for a nursing educator. Use your calendar to create a regular schedule, including relaxation and downtime. Hard to believe, but you will need to plan for sufficient sleep and a regular bedtime and stick to it. Make sure you eat healthy, regular meals. I’m sure you noticed the word regular was repeated several times. You will be giving this advice to your students, too. Remind yourself about these things periodically and then remind a colleague as well. Caring means sharing.

All my best,
Self (in 2020)

How can you use your memories to pay it forward to new faculty? First, you need to remember, then take someone under your caring wing and help them learn to fly on their own. Even though these areas are just the tip of the iceberg, they will easily get you started.

What advice do you have for new faculty?

Kathy Rose, MSN, BSN, RN
Undergraduate BSN Chair and Assistant Professor
Solutions
Lippincott Nursing Education
Preparing today’s students to become tomorrow’s nurses.