First, a quick quiz:
- Janet is speaking to a group of people about the correct ways of administering a particular drug. Is Janet teaching?
- Michael is showing Lei how to use a video camera, so that Lei in turn can show the students in her unit. Is Michael teaching?
- Sara, an administrator, is talking to her team about a new workflow program and showing them how to work with the new system. Is Sara teaching?
- Ahmed is in a Zoom session, presenting to senior colleagues, his research findings which disprove a theory. Is Ahmed teaching?
- Carly is in a meeting, taking a team through the principles of effective communication. Is Carly teaching?
- David is talking PhD student Ian through possible responses to reviewers’ comments. Is David teaching?
I wish I had a dollar for every time a colleague tells me they don’t teach.
It usually happens when I’m in a group – a workshop, a seminar, even a meeting. We’ll be having this really engaging discussion about some aspect of our work here at the university… and then someone pipes up with a statement that always catches me off guard:
I can’t really talk about teaching. It’s not my field.
Other versions include:
I’m not an expert in teaching.
I’m not doing any teaching.
My qualifications are not in teaching.
I don’t have an education degree.
I’m a researcher / research-intensive.
And the simple: I’m not a teacher.
The colleagues that say these things most often are usually employed in research, or student support, or university administration, or they work with industry or corporate or community partners. I’m hazarding a guess that because they’re not regularly up at the front of a lecture theatre (or leading a Zoom tutorial), they don’t consider what they do to be teaching.
The fact is most people working at universities don’t have formal teaching qualifications. And many of us call ourselves ‘academics’, ‘researchers’, ‘professionals’ or [insert industry /discipline-specific term here] or anything else really, before we would call ourselves ‘teachers’.
And that’s fine. But the reality is, with or without formal teaching qualifications, quite a bit of our day-to-day work involves communicating with other people so that those other people walk away having learned something from our interaction – some new idea or fact or approach or understanding about the way the world works, which then helps them navigate that world in a different way.
This is teaching.
So, even if you’re not fronting up online or to a classroom of first year students, chances are, if you’re working here (and reading this) you’re involved in some kind of teaching work, and it’s likely too, that you need and want to do this work well.
By not fully owning this teaching work that is so much a part of our professional lives in this institution of higher education (and that last word is key), we’re selling ourselves and others – students, peers, colleagues – short.
And we may not be doing our jobs properly if we let the idea that we don’t have formal qualifications in education, or formal status as a Teacher, hold us back or – to be frank – excuse us from learning how to teach, and teach well.
Do qualifications make a teacher?
I don’t have formal qualifications in writing, but my job depends on my being able to write, write often, and write well enough to achieve certain end goals. These include emails, journal papers, reviews, reports and blog posts that can be read, understood and actioned by others where necessary. I don’t need to call myself a writer, but I do need to familiarise myself with the tools, the approaches, and the methods that people with expertise / experience / actual qualifications – people who call themselves, who are writers – use, recommend, advocate and teach.
Does expertise make a teacher?
Writing is not my field nor my area of expertise. I didn’t do a PhD in writing (even though I wrote it). I don’t call myself a Writer. But you can be sure that, because I have to do some form of writing regularly, I have made it my business to learn – and continue to learn - how to do it as well as I can. As much for my own sense of professional competence and confidence as for those I am writing to and for.
So not only do I write but I also research writing, and I read about how to improve writing practice. Whenever offered and whenever I can, I attend workshops on writing, so that I can learn from other practitioners, all of whom know more than I do about particular methods, approaches, and ways of communicating with readers. No, writing is not my field or my particular area of expertise, but it is a significant part of my job, and indeed, I couldn’t work properly in my field without knowing how to do it competently.
I would argue that the same goes for teaching. Even if you don’t call yourself a teacher, or you’re not currently in a formal teaching role, success in [insert your field here] probably can’t be achieved without some proficiency in teaching.
And even if you’re not teaching students – undergrads, postgrads, HDRs – you’re probably involved in teaching peers, colleagues, other professionals, the public. Those of you who are in ‘research-focused’ roles can’t be let off the hook either. The Vitae Researcher Development Framework acknowledges the role of teaching (and teaching-related skills like supervision, mentoring, leadership, collaboration, communication, dissemination) in research. It’s a critical skill; in fact I’d argue it is essential to research, good research.
For those of you who are still hesitant in calling what you probably do every single day as Teaching, here’s a checklist that might ease you into thinking of it as teaching:
- Work at a university or another education institution, or indeed, any organisation
- communicating / facilitating / sharing / presenting / demonstrating / training / lecturing / tutoring / discussing
- Ideas, concepts, approaches, methods, findings, knowledge, skills, systems
- People, who need to
- Learn something from that interaction with you
then you’re teaching. Small but significant ‘t’.
So please, talk about teaching.