Why did you start teaching? What (or who) inspired you?
When I arrived at Warwick, I already had over ten years of experience holding civic education workshops for pupils, students and professionals. I had also taught as an undergraduate at my university in Germany. I didn’t need to teach for money, as I had quite a generous PhD scholarship while at Warwick, but I wanted to gain the experience of teaching in the UK.
Is there anything you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Yes, lots of things. I wish there were more training for teachers at universities – both for sessional tutors and more senior academics. When I started teaching at Warwick, we all had to attend one compulsory one-day training session, which I don’t think was enough for many of the PhD students who had never taught before. Teaching – like so many things in life – is to a large part about confidence and creativity, but these two need to be nurtured, they are not always a given.
If you were mentoring a first-time teacher, what three bits of advice would you give?
- Be authentic and approachable. There is no need to pretend to be someone you are not in the classroom. It is ok to admit that you do not know the answer to a question, and just because you teach it doesn’t mean you are not a person any more. When I am tired, I mention it at the beginning of the class, make a light-hearted joke about it – and then ask my students how they are feeling. I feel that by not hiding the person I am behind the professional I am in the classroom, my students also feel that they can be honest about their struggles (and a lot more students are struggling at university than one might think!)...
- …which leads me to my second point: be kind and respectful. A good teacher can inspire and motivate their students, a bad one can break their motivation and crush their confidence. Don’t be that person.
- Keep your seminars or lectures engaging. I don’t want to sit in a boring lecture – so why would I do this to my students? There is no excuse for doing the exact same kind of activity in your seminars every week. There are so many activities you can choose from that will make the class more fun for your students – and for you.
What advice/top tips would you give to more experienced teachers?
Don’t be afraid to keep on trying out new stuff. Insist that your institution provides appropriate training for new and more experienced teachers.
What new technologies are you currently using to enhance your teaching? What are your top tips for using them?
I have used Twitter and course-specific hashtags. What I think is important is that you are clear on what you want to use new technologies for. I don’t think that using new technologies just for the sake of using them is very helpful. Also, in my opinion, most people I know would probably benefit more from learning about different types of interactive group activities rather than new technologies.
What does winning a WATE award mean to you?
Teaching can often be quite exhausting (most of us put so much effort into doing our best), so this is a nice recognition!
What are the biggest challenges faced by teaching staff? How do you overcome these?
The precarious working conditions many sessional teachers are faced with. I hope the university will soon make it a matter of course to give all teachers (and other staff members) full employee rights. We deserve it!
What do you enjoy the most about teaching? What’s the best part of your job?
When I enter the classroom on a rainy Monday morning in October to teach a research methods class (a topic many undergraduate students don’t particularly enjoy), but my students still greet me with a smile and engage … the puzzled expression on their faces when I try a new method with them that they don’t immediately get … reading really good essays my students have written, seeing how much they have learned in the last year and knowing that I have played a part in getting them there…
Enjoyed hearing from Jennifer? See the full list of 2018 winners and commendees and read other interviews.