Seasoned bedside nurses are going back to school for education degrees to shift their career into teaching as a nurse educator.
Does the following scenario sound familiar? You’re a seasoned bedside nurse who has gone back to school for a master’s degree or even higher with an emphasis on education. Now, you’ve accepted your first faculty position. You’re excited to begin teaching nursing students how to be the best nurses they can be! This has been a dream you have worked toward for a long time.
And then you realize that you are all on your own as a nursing educator. You receive only limited mentorship or orientation. You are now responsible for a class of 80 eager students with high expectations.
Here are just a few of the things that may be new to you - even as an experienced nurse:
- University Technology
- Learning Management System (LMS)
- Committees and Meeting Schedules
- Course Load vs Clinical Load
- University vs Program vs Student vs Module Learning Outcomes
- Test Writing and Testing Platforms
- Textbook Selection
- Grading Scale
- Office Hours
The reality is this, no amount of education and bedside experience prepared you for this. I would like to share what helped me survive my first year as a nurse educator.
1. Develop an educators community
You need like-minded educators to rely on. These are people you will be able to observe, ask questions and advice, and learn more about your new teaching career. I went an entire semester leaving campus Fridays at 12:30 pm. Little did I know that our school had faculty and/or curriculum meetings every Friday at 1 pm. I didn’t know, and I didn’t have a community to tell me. Take the time to introduce yourself.
2. Ask for help from seasoned nursing educators
Don’t sink when you can swim with a little guidance. Now isn’t the time to be shy or embarrassed - we’ve all been in your spot. You can’t learn or change what you don’t know. Find a trusted peer and ask for help. Finding a good mentor can make all the difference.
3. Keep things positive
Stay away from negativity – far away. Avoid the breakroom drama of how other nurse educators structure their office hours, clinical load, or classroom management. No one faculty member has the exact same workload as anyone else. Remember that many things are done behind the scenes, after hours, and/or weekends. You may be making a comment without knowing the full story and end up burning bridges. Your job as a first-year nurse educator is to focus on your own progress. Do not compare yourself with anyone.
4. Don’t reinvent the wheel
You will have a lot to learn as a new nurse educator. Take help where you can get it. For example, teach the course the same way as your predecessor did – unless it was a major flop. Take notes along the way of what is working well and what isn’t. Write down where students were confused and what questions were asked. Analyze assignments vs learning outcomes, the textbook, and exams. The place for changes is round two with collected data.
You have heard it before, but it is worth stating again – self-care matters for nurse educators. You must eat well, sleep, exercise, and find ways to relax and unwind. The amount of stress your first-year holds is tremendous. The amount your students rely on you is also tremendous. Lead by example.
6. Create and enforce boundaries
A piece of advice I received in my first year, was - “Don’t smile until December.” At the time, I didn’t know what that mean, but I get it now and I agree 100%.
You are a role model for your students. An expert in your field. You are not their friend or colleague. Once those lines are blurred or crossed there is no going back. Set office hours, methods of communication, and response times, and then stick to them. Avoid social media connections. Know the resources available to students and use them to enforce your boundaries - you are not a therapist or counselor.
Lastly, I recommend not giving out your personal cell number. This makes it too easy for you and your students to forget about those boundaries you worked so hard to create. If you don’t have an office number, I recommend a Google Voice with time constraints. Or better yet, limit communication to email only.
7. Enjoy teaching!
Above all else - enjoy your first year! Much like a caring for a new baby, the days are long, but the years are short. You will look back on these days and be ready to be mentors to new nurse educators in future years!