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WATE PGR 2018 commendee: Shannon Mathieu (PAIS)

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

When I first arrived at Warwick I found the prospect of teaching very daunting, but the support offered in my department—particularly from fellow PhD researchers—and the encouragement I received from my supervisors convinced me it was something I would be able to do. I have had so many wonderful teachers during my own time as a student. My undergraduate supervisor, Ann Snitow, had a profound impact on my life, and I hoped to be able to bring a small amount of that inspiration to my own teaching.

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

My most meaningful experiences as a student always came from teachers who spoke to me on a person-to-person level, who trusted my ability to think independently and were genuinely interested to hear what I had to say. I have tried to replicate this approach with my students, and seeing them grow as critical thinkers and gain confidence in their abilities has been incredibly rewarding.

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

I wish someone had told me that many students are genuinely eager to learn. I heard stories about the difficulty of getting some students to do the reading or to participate in seminars, and of course that is sometimes a problem. But I spent a lot of time worrying about that before I started teaching, and my experiences has been that most students are passionate about the subjects they’ve chosen to study and excited to engage with the material.

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

Don’t worry too much, enjoy the process, and whenever possible get to know your students’ individual interests and motivations.

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

I would be more interested in hearing what advice they have for me, but I suppose I would emphasize the chance to learn from each new group of students.

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

I don’t currently use much technology in my teaching. I tend to start each session with a short PowerPoint presentation, which I’ve found is a useful way of getting through some of the key information for the session quickly, allowing students to ask any questions they have about the material, and then opening the discussion to go in different directions, depending on what thoughts and experiences the individual students bring to the group. My advice for using PowerPoint would be to keep it brief and simple.

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

It’s exciting to see how my students use the technologies they bring to the seminar - their phones and laptops - to access relevant information and flesh out the details of the arguments they want to make. They have such good instincts for where to find exactly the information they need in the moment, and I look forward to seeing how this ability and the technologies they use continue to evolve with future students.

What does winning a WATE award mean to you?

I’ve worked hard this year to provide my students with the support they need and to engage them in exciting conversations about politics. Being highly commended in the WATE awards is an affirmation that I’ve succeeded in some small measure, and an encouragement to keep working to improve my teaching in the future.

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

I love seeing my students make new connections, take on a new perspective, or think in a way that they haven’t in the past. For me this has always been the most exhilarating part of study, and it’s an experience that happens less frequently as you get older and more familiar with your subject matter. Working with first-year students is a reminder of what it feels like to encounter new ideas and to suddenly see old problems in new ways.

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

The biggest challenge I’ve encountered is being paid for fewer hours than it takes to do the work well. As a result, like most other associate tutors I know, I work additional hours for which I don’t get paid. This sometimes leads to conflicts with my other responsibilities, but through support and tips from fellow teachers I’ve been able to gain efficiency in my preparation for seminars.

What lessons have you learned from your students?

I’ve seen my students deal with the same worries that I had as an undergraduate - about whether I was a good enough student, whether my teachers would think badly of me if I made a mistake on an assignment - which, seen from a teacher’s point of view, has given me new perspective on the insecurities that follow most us through life. Most of the time nobody is judging us as harshly as we imagine.

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

  • Imagination
  • Empathy
  • A sense of fun
  • A love of ideas
  • Courage
  • Kindness
  • Passion
  • Generosity

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