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Peter Furlong

I had this same problem for a few years, and it sapped my enthusiasm for teaching. I liked being in the classroom (although my nerves didn't completely go away there), but even the day before I would be stressed about it. Luckily, at some point this just went away. I didn't do anything in particular to stop it from happening, but I noticed two things that seem to align with this change in myself. First, I became comfortable preparing in a less formal way. When I first started teaching, I would print out a typed outline for the day and have lots of notes in the reading. Now, I just bring in the text for the day, with a few things starred, just so I can be sure I can easily find them. I feel comfortable knowing that I know the text, and the text brings up interesting things to talk about. Given these two things, I know the class will work out just fine without any typed outline. Second, I now recognize that I can have fun in the classroom. I get to pick the readings for my classes, and I pick ones that bring up issues I like to talk about (even if I disagree with the text itself). This has all led me to changing the way I think about my teaching. I don't think about the material I need to cover, but just think about it as the conversation we are going to have together.

Now, it is not clear that this provides much in the way of advice for those who still get nervous. But, maybe it can help in a few ways. First, it shows that some people (including some very introverted people, like myself) can become comfortable enough with teaching that nerves rarely surface. Second, it can suggest that over-prepping in particular ways (which was my response to nerves) might be counter-productive. Third, it suggests that if you can find ways to enjoy being in the classroom, it might help pre-class nerves to settle down.


Yes I'm TAing this term as well and at the start I was quite nervous. It helps to try and identify why you are nervous. For myself, I found that I was afraid of not being knowledgeable enough or not having the right answers or being undermined by students who are 'smarter' than me. So, my solution is simply to over prepare. I read all of the material they are assigned very closely. I take detailed notes. I watch the lectures they are given and I take detailed notes on those as well. When there is a difficult section of text, I spend as much time as needed to break it down so that I understand it, only so that I am prepared to explain it if someone asks (they usually don't). I read more than what is assigned for the course so that I can get a better understanding of the small sections of text the students are given to read.

As a result, I've found that my nerves have disappeared, and I'm able to really enjoy leading discussion sessions and helping students grasp the material.

So, I think it is key to sit down and identify the source of your nervousness and tackle it head on. But in my case, I'm simply leading discussion sessions, which is not nearly as high-stakes as teaching. Also, I find being online less nerve-racking than being in person.

Mike Titelbaum

Any chance you have anxiety issues more generally? I've been teaching for over twenty years, and still get nervous, but it took me until I had kids and saw what anxiety looked like in them to realize I'd been dealing with it myself for a long time. If there's general anxiety going on, there are many ways to address that, up to and including medication.

As for teaching nerves in particular, here are a couple things I've found help me: I make a lot of lists—of things I need to bring to class with me, things I need to not forget to cover, etc. I also make sure I have plenty of time to get set up before class, so that if some unexpected thing happens or I forget something, there's time to get it addressed.

(So, for instance, teaching online these days I usually start getting set up half an hour before class begins. I get my Zoom going, open the various windows I'll need, review my lecture, etc. I usually wind up having at least an extra ten or fifteen minutes to hang out until any students arrive, but every once in a while something comes up and I'm glad I had the extra time.)

And honestly, the most important thing that has helped me is experience. I've been doing this long enough that I've faced all sorts of emergencies, had all sorts of things go sideways, and had to figure out solutions on the fly. (The most extreme example being that I was a high school teacher and had to figure out what to do with my students on 9/11/2001.) I'm now pretty confident that whatever happens, I'll be able to deal with it, it'll be okay, and at worst I can always come back and fix it next class. That intellectual knowledge doesn't kill the anxiety, but at least helps me address it. So I'd suggest that if you hang in there, it'll get better, even if it might not ever entirely go away!


I second Mike Titelbaum above. I found that I made better progress on this issue after starting to think of it as social anxiety rather than just something like "teaching stresses me out". Then I was able to broaden my thinking to include solutions for that general issue. MoodGYM is an online, automated CBT program I had some success with.

Of course, this might not be the right way for OP to think about it, but I thought it would be worth sharing.

Daniel Immerman

Wanted to second Mike Titelbaum's comments about getting to class with plenty of time. I also found that preparing in advance was helpful. Often I prepped in stages; maybe a week before I'd think a little about how class would go, then again a couple of days before, and then again a day before. (Each of these prep sessions would be relatively brief; I found that my subconscious would often have answered questions I had during one prep session in the interim before the next). During these prep sessions, I made sure to consciously ask myself what I was worried about happening and how I'd address it if it happened.


Something that works for me is pretending I'm not nervous. I give myself the task of acting like I'm cool and in control.

Also, for conference/colloquium presentations: lots of practice.

Prof L

I also use CBT techniques. If I’m stressed before teaching or I have anxiety afterwards, which sometimes happens if I said something dumb during class, I’ll sit with the thoughts. Instead of avoiding the thought, think through what i am afraid of and worst-case-scenarios. I’ve also found that it helps to 1) teach what I love and 2) get comfortable with the fact that not every student is going to love me, some might even dislike me or my class, and that’s okay. Part of that just comes with experience and confidence.

New prof

I second Daniel Immerman's recommendation to prep in stages. It staves off the stress of an evening or morning spent frantically trying to throw together some kind of plan while also still digesting the material. I haven't been teaching for many years and am still prepping new classes, so I expect the digesting of material will get easier. But right now my first time teaching the material in the classroom is often my first time thinking very carefully about it, and I find it's important separate the part of prep where I'm engaging with the material for myself and the part where I create a map to thinking about it with others.

Two other thoughts: (1) I'm definitely in the camp of those who like to over-prepare. For example, if I'm teaching a new article. I first make an outline of the article with notes. Then I make a set of lecture/discussion notes. Then I make a handout. Then I go back and revise my lecture notes. It's a lot of steps. I used to feel bad that it was so many steps. I like the idea of being able to teach a class without any notes. But I have also learned that making those notes is how I get myself to engage with the material. It helps me keep track of my reactions and thoughts and forces me to think more clearly than I would if I were thinking without writing. So, I have decided to embrace it. For me, it's not over-preparing. It's just how I prepare.

(2) I used to get incredibly anxious before presentations and teaching. Over time, that anxiety has lessened, but I still get it occasionally. One thing that I have found helps enormously with managing it is just acknowledging that I'm uncomfortable now but also reminding myself that the discomfort will go away. I don't try to get rid of it, I just work around it. If the anxiety comes in the evening before a big event, I go ahead with my regular evening routine. If it's right before the event, I make sure to arrive early and give myself time to set up. I try to be ok with feeling unsettled. This strategy has worked equally well for curbing pre-interview stress and first day of class nerves.

Good luck with your teaching! It will get easier, even if you don't completely eliminate the anxiety.

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