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WATE 2019 Commendee: Ian Roberts (SMLC)

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

The enthusiasm of staff at the University of Swansea in the 1980s, conveyed to me their passion for the subject but also their respect for me and my opinions. That combination – their expertise, their enthusiam and their willingness to include me in their exploration of a subject, left a deep impression on me.

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

Always treat your students as equals, partners in learning, not as lesser individuals who need to be leevated to your own level.

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

Don’t do it for the money, or the job security, ha ha.

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

1) Be open to new ideas at all times; 2) involve your students in the process of teaching and learning; 3) be prepared to make yourself vulnerable, you are a performer as well as an expert in your field and sometimes you have to be extravagent in your delivery to capture the attention of a class.

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

Never stop learning – about the subject(s) you teach and the methods you might use to deliver your materials. Don’t underestimate or dismiss the contributions your students can make in your classes and to your own knowledge.

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

I have been teaching for over 30 years, and made extensive use of power point and video clips in my content modules from very early on in my career, although this is hardly new technology. I hope I would be open to the potential of any new technology that might enhance the learning experience of my students.

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

I have long advocated student-led working practices e.g. breakout groups where students explore their own views on materials etc. In all my classes students can take the lead e.g. through plenary sessions in translation or small group feedback reports. I would like to explore peer marking in future.

What does winning a WATE award mean to you?

I was thrilled and humbled to learn that students had nominated me for a WATE award because there is nothing better than receiving your students’ approbation; but to have the nomination confirmed by peers and colleagues is wonderful too.

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

I love the interaction with students, most particularly when it becomes clear that my enthusiasm has begun to change the way my students engage with the topic. Then, when they offer an opinion or make a point which is not something I would have come up with, that is a great moment.

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

Pressures of time/timetabling can distract from the core role of teaching and inspiring students. I’m not sure this can be overcome as such, but I try always to prioritise the students’ needs ahead of all other competing tasks in my job.

What lessons have you learned from your students?

Too many to list individually, but one or two come to mind immediately: always to be open to new (and opposing) ideas, to be flexible in approach and attitude, always to be honest with my students.

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

A perfect inspiring teacher must not only be authoritative and knowledgeable about the subject s/he is teaching, but also passionate, dedicated and committed to conveying a sense of excitement to the student. The teacher’s knowledge must be underpinned by an enquiring mind, willing to adopt new approaches, to be challenged by students at all times, and to be prepared (at times at least) to follow the students’ own enthusiasm and curiosity in unexpected directions. An inspiring teacher must be prepared to “perform” in front of a class, using movement and humour where necessary to keep students’ attention and interest at a high level, always treating students as equals in learning, not minions to be dismissed or, worse still, spoon fed. Finally, an inspiring teacher must be patient: you cannot focus solely on the students who are quick to respond and showing the greatest signs of having embraced the subject. Sometimes the most rewarding experiences come for seeing a student, who has struggled throughout a course, suddenly ‘click’ and run away with their knowledge at the 11th hour.

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