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WATE PGR 2018 winner: Roxanne Douglas (IATL / English)

Why did you start teaching? What (or who) inspired you?

I started teaching because I wanted to share my knowledge and hopefully inspire some learners. The students themselves inspired me to offer guidance which will help make them successful in their studies, and develop into curious, thoughtful young people.

What pearls of wisdom have you been given over the years that have helped you with your teaching?

That pedagogically you should do what feels natural – find a teaching style which works for you and your topic. You should of course try new things, but don’t feel pressured to be a certain kind of tutor.

Is there anything you wish someone had told you when you started out?

Yes – marking does actually take quite some time!

If you were mentoring a first-time teacher, what three bits of advice would you give?

  1. Remember what it felt like to be at your students’ level of study.
  2. Think about what kind of teaching you would have appreciated and found helpful.
  3. Do that.

What advice/top tips would you give to more experienced teachers?

Exactly the same as the above: I think it’s very easy to forget what it’s like to be an undergraduate, especially if you teach the same material for several years. By approaching teaching with sensitivity to where the students are at with the topic, and their life in study, it will inevitably help you anticipate their needs and ways to foster success.

What new technologies are you currently using to enhance your teaching? What are your top tips for using them?

I am a big fan of a good old-fashioned PowerPoint: you can lead into activities, posit questions, use them as visual aids by embedding images and videos. I think there’s a lot to be said for a well-made PowerPoint: just don’t read directly from the slide! Instead, use it as a prompt for your discussion.

What new or future teaching innovations are you looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to seeing what new kinds of teaching spaces are being built on campus.

What does winning a WATE award mean to you?

A lot! I am touched by the nomination by my students because it shows that my efforts have been noticed by them, then the shortlisting is really heartening because it means that the panel supports my approach to teaching. It is a lovely thing to have been nominated and shortlisted for.

What do you enjoy the most about teaching? What’s the best part of your job?

I think the best part of the job is spending time with students in the classroom and seeing them develop critically over the year. This is especially good if you support someone who is struggling a little, and then you see them persevere and succeed – nothing can describe how satisfying that can be.

What are the biggest challenges faced by teaching staff? How do you overcome these?

The casualisation of PGR staff (STP) makes teaching very precarious: myself and my STP colleagues under this model do not get paid for every ‘real’ hour that we work, and are prohibited by limited contracts from doing so. Indeed, many of us manage multiple jobs, which can make it hard to give as much time and energy to teaching as we would perhaps like to, especially if we want to be as supportive as possible to our students. To overcome this, we should continue to collaborate between STP, permanent staff, students and non-academic staff to demand, as a community, what kind of institution we want the university to be.

What lessons have you learned from your students?

That there is more to academic success than learning to engage with course content – there is and should be community building and room for self-care and good mental health practices.

If you could write a recipe for the perfect inspiring teacher, what ingredients would you need?

  • A nice sunny environment (so as to teach outside as much as possible)
  • Adequate and stable remuneration (to reflect current energy expenditure, and foster a live culture of energy)
  • Thoughtfulness or Kindness, but ideally both
  • Generosity with time (this is a by-product of the stable remuneration and thus will hopefully come naturally)
  • A good solid sense of humour
  • A genuine love of teaching
  • Enthusiasm about the course content
  • And a pinch of awareness of the importance of self-care and mental health care

Enjoyed hearing from Roxanne? See the full list of 2018 winners and commendees and read other interviews.