Why did you start teaching? What (or who) inspired you?
I was truly fortunate to have my path crossing with a few excellent teachers. They effectively changed my life, and I would not be the same without them. These experiences showed me the sheer power and responsibility that comes with teaching, and inspired me to try to be that driving force to at least some of my students.
What pearls of wisdom have you been given over the years that have helped you with your teaching?
I would say the most useful pearl of wisdom was given to me when I was 16. My Maths teacher at the time impressed upon me the need to think! Yes, it may seem obvious. But what she meant really was the ability not to take things at face value, and to always question what you are looking at, striving for a better and deeper understanding. I use this every single day in my teaching. It’s a kind of ethos by now!
Is there anything you wish someone had told you when you started out?
I wish someone had told me from the very beginning how much we, as teachers/lecturers, can learn from students. The bi-directional nature of this relationship came with experience, but I wish I could have experienced such richness from much earlier on.
If you were mentoring a first-time teacher, what three bits of advice would you give?
Prepare, prepare, prepare… students are intelligent and bright. Be ready for them by being on top of your subject. Be passionate about your subject, and let that passion show in your delivery. And be respectful towards your students – in connection with their diversity and uniqueness, and as active parts of this relationship.
What advice/top tips would you give to more experienced teachers?
Keep trying! Our job is never finished, and the avenues for constant development are never-ending!
What new technologies are you currently using to enhance your teaching? What are your top tips for using them?
I am very much interested on what new technologies can bring to our teaching. A set of different platforms are becoming available, which go from instant polling, to the use of photo walls, gated content, and other techniques which might have a positive impact student engagement and experience.
What new or future teaching innovations are you looking forward to?
I am interested in knowing how automation and Artificial Intelligence can contribute for our jobs. If on the one hand, this can be quite scary (are we being replaced?), on the other, I think this will lead us to step up our game, and truly add value to students. That is, invest in creativity, criticality and personal engagement!
What does winning a WATE award mean to you?
It means the world! It means being recognised for the investment of a lifetime. It means an additional acknowledgment that all the curiosity, openness, restleness and strive for excellence were the way to go! It can also be a kind of beacon – both a celebration of the path already covered, and a clear guidance to the one still to cover!
What do you enjoy the most about teaching? What’s the best part of your job?
Definitely the students and the knowledge! The ability to have a life-long learning process, and share it with bright students such as Warwick’s. A true honour.
What are the biggest challenges faced by teaching staff? How do you overcome these?
Time… Continuous improvement requires an also continuous effort towards rethinking and questioning how you engage with students, both in terms of delivery and assessment and feedback. It also means a constant updating effort in terms of your specific area of expertise. I find that I frequently struggle to have the time to actually go as far as I would like. Unfortunately, no solution in sight.
What lessons have you learned from your students?
Be humble, be respectful, be openminded and think that each interaction is a development opportunity on both sides!
If you could write a recipe for the perfect inspiring teacher, what ingredients would you need?
I am definitely still looking for it! And would love if somewhat could share it with me!
On a second thought, I am not even sure such a recipe exists. This would probably mean a kind of 'one size fits all solution', and I don’t particularly believe in that. The need to respect the diversity and uniqueness of our students makes me think that each teaching and learning experience needs to be considered carefully and designed and delivered in such a way that will lead to excellent student experiences.
Nonetheless, I would say that some ingredients would need to be present.
- Prepare – your students deserve the very best of you. So make sure you put the effort in. This should entail not only being on top of what you will actually be covering, but also giving strong consideration to who actually your audience is. The audience’s features, interest and expectations should drive what and how you plan delivery.
- Passion - give yourself to the process. Be passionate about your subject area and be passionate about your job. And make sure hat that passion comes across. There is nothing as compelling as the others witnessing how much you believe in what you are doing.
- Respect – at all levels. Respect yourself by being honest towards what you are trying to achieve. And always respect your students. Their diversity and uniqueness not only need to be respected, but are also sources of huge benefits and the richness. Be sure you get them.
- Knowledge – Know your ‘stuff’! Be knowledgeable about the message you are trying to put across, don’t ever think you know it all, and add value!
- Enjoy – Always!
Enjoyed hearing from Sandra? See the full list of 2018 winners and commendees and read other interviews.