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WATE PGR 2020 Winner: Sarah Mainwaring (PAIS)

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

  • Experience of teaching was important in the department.
  • My friends from older years in the PhD cohort told me about teaching and why they enjoyed it.

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

  • Try not to worry about quiet seminars or groups – the students are there for themselves – you’re not meant to give them a second lecture.
  • Use interactive sessions like debates and group work to break up the seminar sessions.
  • Be respectful of your own time outside of your role as Associate Tutor.
  • Enjoy it.

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

  • It can be more fun than you realise, and the students are there to help you, as much as you’re there to help them.
  • Don’t be afraid of innovating things – seminars don’t have any one directed format – when you’re running a seminar, you’re in control… so just do what you enjoy.

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

  1. Get to know the lecturer who convenes the course – they can help you with anything you’re unsure about.
  2. Innovate – don’t just use presentations and discussion groups.
  3. Always have a back-up plan or idea if something goes wrong – print your powerpoint out, because the projector can always fail.

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

  • Involve students in the process – get them to lead debate sessions or other activities – so the seminars are peer-led.
  • Consider inviting outside speakers or featuring a recorded lecture that was online.
  • Online 1-1 sessions are sometimes more efficient than face to face ones.

What does being recognised through WATE PGR mean to you?

Being nominated has been a humbling experience, recognising that my seminars or teaching has influenced and positively affected the students.

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

Learning from the students and having the opportunity to be creative about broader issues of the field – beyond your research.

How have you adapted your teaching during Covid-19? What have you learnt from the experience?

  • Use of online technology is critical.
  • Invest in a decent set of headphones.
  • Students engage more when they’re taking part in online seminars (I don’t know why!).

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

  • Windows Teams.
  • Youtube – private channels for the class.
  • online webinar sessions – already uploaded by leading organisations and NGOs.

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

  • Time pressures and personal anxiety about students thinking you’re inadequate.
  • Respect your own time – don’t reply to students overnight and have assigned ‘days’ to do a&f or e-mail responses. students recognise you’re busy… just tell them and they will usually understand.
  • Seminar plans – have 3 exercises planned for every hour so you’ve always got something in your back pocket if something goes wrong.

What lessons have you learned from your students?

  • Preparation and knowledge are the golden combination.
  • Give them the freedom in seminars to explore independently.
  • Sometimes silence is about them – and not about you.

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

Knowledge, patience and humour.

Enjoyed hearing from Sarah? See the full list of 2020 winners and commendees and read other interviews.