Why did you start teaching? What (or who) inspired you?
I started teaching out of curiosity! Before starting, I didn’t have a burning passion for teaching and I was quite sceptical about my teaching skills, but I wanted to experience also this side of the academic profession... I ended up loving it. Now I think that teaching and research definitely complement each other.
What pearls of wisdom have you been given over the years that have helped you with your teaching?
“Relax, you are prepared and qualified!”
This is what a professor once told me to reassure me as was quite panicking about my first seminar. It’s incredibly simple but I think that first-time teachers can too easily doubt themselves. That sentence immediately helped me put things into perspective and stress less about my performance as a teacher.
Is there anything you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Yes: don’t over-prepare it.
It might be a classic rookie mistake, but I used to overly prepare my seminars. Now I can see that a successful discussion sometimes might need some improvisation. To work with our students, I think we need to understand what they are passionate about, what sparks their interest and build on top of that passion.
If you were mentoring a first-time teacher, what advice would you give?
- Trust your students. They are genuinely interested in learning and passionate about the subjects you will be teaching them. Let that interest emerge, even if it might take some time and there might be some (long and painful) silences.
- Talk with your colleagues (peers and seniors) and share ideas, problems and solutions. Learn from them as much as you can and, of course, reciprocate. There is nothing wrong in admitting that you are struggling with a topic, a specific exercise or a group. Most of your colleagues had probably experienced something similar and they will be more than happy to help you.
- Spend the right amount of time on teaching preparation. At the beginning, you might be tempted to spend a lot of time preparing for your seminars (it took me a week for my first seminar!). In the long run, this is not sustainable. Learn how to manage your time effectively (and ask colleagues for time-management tips!).
What do you enjoy the most about teaching? What’s the best part of your job?
Undoubtedly, the best part of my job is when students forget about my presence in a seminar and interact with, challenge and discuss each other's positions. Seeing them debate with confidence, respect and philosophical knowledge is extremely rewarding.
Enjoyed hearing from Irene? See the full list of 2020 winners and commendees and read other interviews.