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WATE 2019 Winner: Joerg Seifert (SMLC)

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

I started teaching in 1992 when I came to the UK to work as a Teaching Assistant in a school in the North of Manchester. That experience stayed with me and helped me understand issues relating to student transition into university when three years later I took on my first teaching post in higher education. My inspiration for teaching came mainly from outstanding role models I was lucky to meet during my own education at school and universities. I also saw teaching closely intertwined with the pursuit of and access to knowledge, a privilege that was not a given within the constraints of the former GDR where I grew up.

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

One pearl was to be prepared to work hard! Starting teaching and doing it well can be and always is a challenge. I was lucky to have had very supportive colleagues along the way whom I was able to communicate with, ask for advice and support when needed, and who were open and frank with me about their own experiences, mistakes, successes and little mishaps during their own teaching careers. One advice would surely be to reach out to colleagues with any questions for guidance or simply to communicate to them how you feel about standing in front of your students, your own teaching practice, your career as a teacher.

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

Perhaps that one should be prepared for the fact that teaching is never ‘more of the same’ – like a routine -- if ever one wanted one -- but that every academic year, when I meet my new students, I feel nervous and challenged by that first encounter with my new students, about getting to know them, and to prepare the ground for a good and constructive teaching and learning relationship.

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

Always prepare as best as you can for your sessions with students.

Never underestimate your students, they are immensely clever and full of surprises, and whilst they surely respect your expertise in your own field, show the same respect for them and their current and unfolding abilities.

If you don’t find ways to engage your students, you cannot teach them.

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

Never forget what it felt like being on the other side, being a student, when you are setting out building learning relationships. It is our professional duty not to lag behind in terms of understanding where these new and evolving generations of students are coming from, how their experiences in life and school differed from ours, and what we need to learn from them in order to inform our own teaching practice so that learning can be effective and meaningful – for yourself and your students.

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

I use social media platforms for my Online Virtual Exchanges, Moodle, and Mahara for students who design e-portfolios as part of their courses – but my students use many more and different tools for their independent learning and sometimes they even devise their own Apps! Know the technology as best as you can – even though your students probably know it better – so learn from and with them, and don’t be shy admitting that you value their expertise in terms of new technologies that they are able to bring to the class room. And remember that any use of technology needs to be underpinned by your own teaching methodology and philosophy.

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

I am always interested in how to make learning and assessment more meaningful for my students.

I am also interested in an approach to teaching and learning that views students as essential partners – not simply consumers. With regard to future technologies, I suppose, Augmented Realty, for example, can possibly do a lot for language learners.

What does winning a WATE award mean to you?

I am very happy that my own contribution to teaching and learning at Warwick has been recognized in this way. But I am also aware that there are many wonderful colleagues out there who do an amazing job for their students and for Warwick on a day-to-day basis without ever receiving such accolade, so I feel very privileged in that sense. It also means that my students took the time and effort to nominate me for this award – and I am very touched by this, and I would like to thank them sincerely.

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

Without any doubt my students.

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

Perhaps being able to deal with such a diversity of students and to try to respond to the individual needs of learners at the same time.

What lessons have you learned from your students?

That they already know things that I will probably never learn myself! I teach German for the Institution Wide Learning Programme but my students, already well versed in English and their own diverse mother tongues, also understand the languages of mathematics, physics, social sciences, engineering, etc. Awesome!

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

I would ask for the use of passive voice in recipes: it’s not about you – it is about your students.

Enjoyed hearing from Joerg? See the full list of 2019 winners and read other interviews.