If you’ve been teaching for any length of time, you know that every school term has its successes… as well as its challenges.

We recently polled our Engaging Minds audience about their top teaching challenges this semester. Three of their responses rose to the top; below, we’ve shared some tips that can help you overcome these particular challenges and feel more effective and efficient this term.

Three top teaching challenges… and how to overcome them

1. Increasing student participation

If you ask a question during class, are your words met with silence? Are the first hands up (or the first responses on the discussion board) always from the same students?

In either case, you’re probably hoping to increase the amount of student participation in your course. To foster more engaging discussions in your class, try these ideas from McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, Fourteenth Edition:

  • Maintain a “classroom climate” that is conducive to participation; ensure that discussions, whether in person or virtual, keep up a respectful tone. Also, let students know that you value their contributions to the class discussions; if they know their ideas are valued and welcome, they’ll be more likely to share them more frequently.
  • Before starting a discussion among the whole class, have students break into smaller groups of two or three to converse about your question. Some students may “warm up” once they’ve heard what others have had to say, and feel more prepared to share their own ideas if they’ve first received a positive response from a smaller audience.
  • Give students some time to prepare an answer. Begin the discussion by asking students to write down their responses to your question; then, after a few minutes, ask them to start sharing. Alternately, you could post your questions to the class discussion board before class, then conduct the actual conversation during the class session. By so doing, you give all students (including the less-spontaneous ones) a chance to process their answers… and thus become more confident about sharing what’s on their minds.
  • If your students seem reticent because they’re worried about providing a wrong answer (and becoming embarrassed in the process), try asking one or two questions that have no “right” or “wrong” answer (e.g., “What is your perspective on this topic?” or “How do you feel about these issues, and what impact do they have on you personally?”). Questions such as these encourage students to respond, because students are providing their own, personal take on the matter. (Svinicki and McKeachie, 47-49)


2. Balancing your schedule

Your course load… meetings… grading… office hours with students… your own academic work… other career and professional obligations. By October, you’re likely feeling the pinch of all these things, not to mention your own personal obligations.

With all those responsibilities, you may feel the need to balance (or re-balance) your schedule, so that you can attend to the most pressing matters, as well as the ones that have the most significance to you.

To guide yourself through the process, take some time to think through these four questions from Michael Olpin and Margie Hesson’s Stress Management for Life: A Research-Based Experiential Approach, Fourth Edition. Even if you’ve engaged in this process before, it will pay to take a fresh look at your answers in light of the current demands on your time.

1. What are my highest priorities? (What is most important to me?)
2. Of my priorities, which do I value the most?
3. What can I do about my highest priorities in the days and weeks to come?
4. When, during today or this week, will I do these things? (Olpin and Hesson, 175)

Once you’ve considered these questions, you can create a schedule that reflects these key priorities. You can also adopt other strategies that will help you make the most of your valuable time.


3. Mastering a new technology

Perhaps your college or department is requiring you to adopt a new technology in your course. Or, perhaps you’ve always been curious about smartphones, smartboards, or wearable technology… and you want to develop skills in using these tools in your own classroom. Either way, you may find yourself in search of some ways to help the learning go quickly.

Mastering a new tech tool is not always easy. However, you can take some steps to make the road to mastery smoother.

First and foremost, allow yourself some time to learn that new technology! Schedule a half-hour or an hour a day to become more familiar with the software or tech tool. Find helpful blogs that offer tips, or watch YouTube videos that show the tools in action. “Play around” with the technology until you feel comfortable enough to implement it in your course.

Secondly, try to adopt a curious (rather than apprehensive or overwhelmed) attitude toward learning this new technology. If you approach it as a positive learning experience, rather than a burden, you might find yourself enjoying the process… and learning more quickly to boot. If you get stuck, ask your colleagues for advice. Chances are, one of them knows how to answer your question; or, they could be struggling with the very same issues, and be happy to work through them with you!

Want some additional ideas? Listen in on our “Who Moved My Chalkboard” podcast series, featuring our tips for trying out new edtech tools in your college classroom.

What are your strategies for overcoming these top teaching challenges? Share your ideas in the comments.



Olpin, Michael and Margie Hesson. 2016. Stress Management for Life: A Research-Based Experiential Approach, 4th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Svinicki, Marilla, and Wilbert J. McKeachie. 2014. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers,14th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.