Like conference papers, teaching is something that you may well be expected to begin early on in your career as a researcher, most likely from the second year of your Ph.D. onwards, though rarely earlier than this. It is needless to say that there are numerous teaching strategies out there, and that their suitability depends on the individual lecturer, the discipline and subject which are taught, and of course the students whom you teach. So, as always, and I know I am repeating myself here, this is a post of ideas and tips rather than a steadfast guide. Nevertheless, there are certain aspects of the university teaching experience that I’d like to focus on in particular and which I think are the most relevant to those beginning their careers as lecturers and tutors:
There is an awful lot to say about teaching, but I’m hoping to keep this fairly short and snappy (in hindsight, I haven’t quite succeeded – sorry!). As always, if there is anything that this post does not cover and which you’d like to have addressed, simply use the comments section to let me know – I love hearing from you all, even if you disagree with me! If I can’t help, I’m sure we can find someone who can.
– No earlier than second Ph.D. year; settle into research first.
– Get teaching experience before you finish your doctorate.
– Experience for other careers (communication and admin skills).
– Essential experience for academic post.
– Within and outside of your research area (but within reason, of course).
– It’s good to show you can teach a broad range of modules and levels.
– If you have the opportunity to teach at MA level, take it!
– Remember: teaching the same module repeatedly only equals one line on your CV.
– In the first instance, your own department.
– Send CV and expression of interest to other (local) departments during the summer.
– Teaching elsewhere = good experience; looks good on CV; broadens networks.
– Take into account time and money spent on commuting.
This depends on your financial situation and the workload associated with your teaching contract. Generally speaking, ask yourself (and your prospective employer) the following questions and address the following issues:
– How many classroom hours per week? Spread over how many days?
– Seminars? Lectures? Writing lectures from scratch can take a lot of time!
– Design of seminar content: your responsibility or the module convener’s?
– Seminar sizes? This will directly translate into marking load.
– Marking? How many assignments? Exam marking?
– Are you expected to do any module admin?
– Repeat seminars? Different groups but same material.
– How may office hours are you expected to offer per week?
– Overall, your main job is still to do your Ph.D. Ensure this is possible.
– Ensure you do everything in your power to be registered on the payroll in time for your first payday.
– Tips in ‘Giving Conference Presentations’ (I + II) apply
– Don’t just read from script – engage with your students.
– Ask module leader for previous lectures you can adapt.
– Know what you want your students to learn in each lecture.
– Students’ attention drops after ca. 20min – it’s normal.
– Consider small participatory sections (i.e. ask questions).
– Be clear, be engaging, be enthusiastic, and pace yourself.
– If you say something that’s key, make it clear and repeat it.
– Establish ground rules in first seminar. [i]
– Learn your students’ names. They’re people and deserve that you at least try.
– Ask your module leader about any student support plans (i.e. learning difficulties, etc.).
– Plan your seminars. What are the main issues you want to cover?
– On the other hand, be prepared to let discussion develop in directions you hadn’t anticipated.
– Don’t be fixated on certain answers you want to hear.
– Treat your students with respect if you want to be treated with respect.
– If possible, include small group tasks, especially if you have a quiet group.
– Bring in material that can be read and discussed even if they haven’t done the required preparation.
– Try to ensure they are comfortable. You want them to participate, so be enthusiastic and encourage them.
– Ensure you prepare students for assignments (bring in the guidelines, etc.).
– Try to include practical tasks (close reading, analysis of visual material, etc.) and clear as well as broad questions.
– Always encourage them to ask questions, especially about things they find problematic.
– Never assume a student is stupid. Look to yourself and think about how you can communicate your topic better.
– It’s ok to admit to things you don’t know – say you’ll look into it for next week.
– Everyone has imposter syndrome. It’ll go eventually.
– No matter what the topic, you can teach it and if they’ve given you the job, you are qualified to do so.
– Don’t take module evaluations personally, even if they name you.
– Keep copies of good feedback – it’ll be valuable for job applications.
– Reflect on any criticism, but don’t let your faith in yourself be dictated solely by student feedback.
– Speak to module leader about what is expected in the assignment.
– Ask for a sample essay from last year.
– Ensure you know the assignment guidelines.
– Have the marking descriptors next to you whilst marking.
– Be constructive. Students don’t make errors to annoy you.
– Always find something positive to say.
– Annotate their essay/ exercise as constructively as possible.
– Suggest specific improvements rather than making vague/ general comments.
– Know when assignments are due, and by which date they need to be marked and moderated.
– Know marking and moderation procedures (online/ paper; copying moderated essays; returning essays; etc.).
– Your marking has to cohere with departmental practice. Accept this and adapt to it.
– Ensure you encourage students to read the full feedback, not just their grade.
– Ensure you offer students time to discuss their feedback.
– If they are unhappy with their mark, don’t be defensive. Show them what you mean with your comments.
– Don’t assume things. You don’t know students’ circumstances, background, etc.
– Make clear they can see you if there are personal or academic issues.
– You may not be their personal tutor, but they may feel comfortable with you.
– No matter what the problem, be constructive. What can you do to help?
– You may be the only person they can speak to. Not everyone has family (nearby).
– Be aware of services to which you can refer students if you are unable to help.
WHAT TO DO WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
– Ensure you have a member of staff you can approach with any issues relating to your post.
– If you can’t approach a member of staff, speak to friends who are also teaching.
– As a GTA, voice your concerns if your thesis is coming too short (completion time matters to supervisors).
– It’s unlikely someone else hasn’t encountered your issues them before – talk about them.
– Be a good colleague, but don’t allow yourself to be exploited by other members of staff.
So now that my students have plenty of grounds on which to criticize me, we’ll move back into the realm of research next week, more particularly into to the often intimidating area of submitting your work for peer-review and publication. Having your writing criticized is never a nice prospect, especially not the first time, but I’m hoping we can go through some mechanisms which will allow you to avoid unnecessary mistakes and anxiety before submitting your work, and which will also enable you to start seeing peer-review feedback as something positive. It’s terribly exciting to have work accepted for publication, and from what my senior colleagues tell me, the feeling of relief and a certain pride doesn’t stop, no matter how many things you’ve published. So prepare for another delve into the world of your research and how it may be received by other people! Until then, and as always, thanks for reading!
[i] My house rules are: students must be honest about whether or not they have done the preparation/ reading (it’s impossible to do an effective seminar if you’re unaware of who knows how much); this isn’t another lecture – this is their space to discuss, exchange and try out ideas; everyone is allowed to express their opinion without being interrupted (if they want others to listen, they’ll have to listen to them, too); if someone cannot attend a seminar, they must email their apologies in advance; students must do their best to contribute to the seminar discussion – don’t let others do the work for you (it’s neither fair, nor productive).