Why did you start teaching? What (or who) inspired you?
I first started teaching in 2014 when I became a tutor for GCSE and A-level students to earn some money whilst studying for my undergraduate degree. I soon found the satisfaction that comes with helping someone understand a subject that you love and seeing them achieve and develop their skills so I jumped at the opportunity to TA a small class alongside my PhD studies. I was lucky enough to be initially partnered alongside an excellent TA, Ollie Dyer, from whom I took inspiration about what kind of teacher I wanted to be.
What pearls of wisdom have you been given over the years that have helped you with your teaching?
The pearl of wisdom that I really took to heart is that there is no one single model of a good teacher. Teaching well is not about moulding your personality into a cookie-cutter teacher shape but it is about recognising how your personality feeds into your preferred style of teaching and developing along lines that compliment your strengths. We still have to work on our weaknesses and areas where we are uncomfortable but we can do that in different ways and realise our own end goal.
Is there anything you wish someone had told you when you started out?
An hour is not nearly as long as you think it is!
If you were mentoring a first-time teacher, what advice would you give?
- Don’t try to fit too much into a single session – see above.
- If something goes wrong in your class, don’t be disheartened. Use it as an opportunity to see what you can do differently in the future. Bringing in someone you trust to observe your lessons can provide valuable feedback.
- Be honest with your students. It’s not important that your students think you know everything but that they trust your judgement and ability to guide them.
What advice/top tips would you give to more experienced teachers?
There is no perfect formula for teaching. Always be willing to try out new things and take the time to learn from other teachers – see if what works for them can also work for you. And as you get further away from being a student don’t forget what it was like to be in their shoes, your lessons should cater to them. Try to envisage the classroom from the other side.
What does being recognised through WATE PGR mean to you?
I was delighted to find out that I’d been nominated for a WATE PGR. That someone has taken the time to put my name forward is humbling. I have many friends and colleagues at Warwick who I know are excellent teachers but haven’t been recognised in this way so I realise that I’m also very lucky. It would be fantastic to see more recognition for the many teachers doing a great job across all departments in future years.
What do you enjoy the most about teaching? What’s the best part of your job?
I love being surprised by students when they come out with an answer, comment or idea that I have never heard or even thought of before. Sometimes I will get an answer so intriguing that I will have to contemplate it for a few seconds and then explore it along with the class. These moments are some of the most joyous in teaching as they really demonstrate the immense creativity possessed by students regardless of how far along they are in their studies.
How have you adapted your teaching during Covid-19? What have you learnt from the experience?
I finished my teaching contract in January 2020 in order to start writing up my thesis and so I have not been affected by Covid-19. However, I have been impressed by seeing how other teachers have stepped up to the challenges of moving learning online, although it seems that larger systemic changes need to be made to give students the same quality of teaching and learning that they would otherwise get in the classroom.
What new technologies are you currently using to enhance your teaching? What are your top tips for using them?
Physics problems classes lend themselves well to just the old fashioned whiteboard and projector, though I have had fun with some classes using polling technology to set quizzes and the like.
What are the biggest challenges faced by teaching staff? How do you overcome these?
The biggest challenge is always time. Teaching in a university environment invariably means that you are splitting your time between two passions, teaching and research. There is always more you feel that you want to do in each sphere. The solution is just to set achievable goals and to do your best to work towards them.
What lessons have you learned from your students?
Teaching is a two-way street and so pretty much everything I’ve learned about teaching has come, in some way, from my students. They’ve also taught me a lot about thinking from other perspectives. It is important as a researcher to have an open mind and consider different avenues to understanding a problem. Since I have been primarily teaching first year students they are often less moulded by the mainstay techniques for solving physics questions and show creativity in diverse and unexpected ways.
If you could write a recipe for the perfect inspiring teacher, what ingredients would you need?
- Passion for the subject matter
- Enthusiasm for teaching
- Empathy and Respect for a diverse range of students
- Reflection to continually improve yourself
Everything else is a matter of personal style.
Enjoyed hearing from Jack? See the full list of 2020 winners and commendees and read other interviews.