Teaching is risky business. You’re exposed up the front there with all those eager (or sleeping) faces relying on you to awaken them. But your success as a teacher will depend on your attitude to teaching. Are you the fountain of all wisdom, or a facilitator who motivates students to learn? If you understand your role, you will be better equipped to play it. I remember leading an induction and training session for our tutors and asking them “What is the most important thing in teaching?” A few replied, “Being liked by the students”. That perspective focuses on the teacher and their needs, not the students.

If you care first about the students’ learning, you will be willing to make yourself vulnerable by sharing the learning with them, like asking the hard questions about wicked problems that have no right or wrong answer, or using innovative technology and strategies that sometimes might not work as intended. Teaching can be like a rollercoaster, try X (like role plays) one year and it works well, try X the next year and it falls flat.  So, following year you drop X and students say “it would be nice if you did X!” But making mistakes, including your own, make for memorable learning opportunities, for everyone.

Professor Deborah Richards. Photo by Mike Catabay for Learning Innovation Hub

Professor Deborah Richards.

I have a few mantras that I recite to remind myself, when needed.

“Don’t panic!” In my first semester at Macquarie 18 years ago, my former PhD supervisor used the “panic” word when talking about his teaching. I was surprised and relieved. I had no idea others felt like that too.

“There is no-one in this classroom more interested in the material that I am teaching than me”. This means, you set the upper bar. Even if students start with great enthusiasm and expectations, if you are bored or disinterested in your topic, you will extinguish that spark before they walk out the door. Similarly, if you are “pumped”, your passion will spread like wildfire.

“We’re in this together”. There will be mutual respect and understanding with an attitude that we (students and teachers) are “doing life” together. (I don’t mean we are incarcerated together!).  Draw on the experience of other teachers. In my first two years of lecturing, I attended weekly lectures given by my peers in multiple units and even in different departments. I learnt a lot. Join L&T SIGs, look at the literature, publish your teaching innovations, get a teaching qualification, …

Some career advice, “Teaching is like light, it fills the whole room” and can fill all your time if you let it. While you want to enlighten others, you have to balance the time you put into teaching against your other work, like research, and other commitments, like family and outreach.

My experiences and these mantras may not resonate with you. As a practitioner, reflect on your teaching and think about what positive messages can help you and your students to learn and grow. Share them – Let’s learn to teach together.

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Posted by Learning Innovation Hub

3 Comments

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    Dear Deborah

    Thank you for the teaching insights particularly the peer learning one. Some can shy away from that but I find it extremely helpful to improve my training sessions!

    John Elias
    Research Librarian

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    “Teaching is like light,… But you need to balance”. I believe this is a challenge with dozens of to do tasks, preparation, students inquiries, students’ emails with subject “URGENT” or “please help me”,…

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    Nice article Deb, totally agree that being excited about your subject area should hopefully stir excitement in others.

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