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Ego and teaching

September 29, 2011 Leave a comment

I think you go through stages as a university teacher.

Stage 1 is fear.  However well qualified we may be in our own discipline area, it is a daunting thing to face a lecture theatre full of students for the first time.  It may not be a popularity poll but it is human nature to want our students to like us in addition to wanting them to understand the field about which we are passionate.

I based my early teaching on the teaching style of the lecturers who had inspired me (thank you Richard Gelski and Michael Blakeney from the Faculty of Law at UNSW) and tried to avoid the teaching practices of those lecturers who had left me uninspired (I’ll keep those names quiet but just say that unfortunately it is a fairly long list).  The only problem with the modeling approach to teaching was that, while helpful, you really need to find your own style of teaching.

Stage 2 is comfort.  We fall into a pattern.  We find our style, our stride and our comfort zone.  It is very easy to be lulled into a false sense of security in this period.  It is also very easy to bore students.  I think we need to not only be challenging our students but we also need to be challenging ourselves.  We do that in our discipline areas through our research but research is only part of what we do.  We also teach.  So we need to challenge ourselves in that area too.

Stage 3 creeps up on you unawares.  I call it the questioning stage.  It is where you start wanting to improve your teaching, to know more about how your students learn, to examine your role as teacher and how you can better facilitate student learning.  This stage can be accompanied by uncertainty because you start questioning everything you do as a teacher and realize what you know is far outweighed by what you want to know.

That’s not such a bad thing.  It was at this stage that I did a university teaching qualification, started engaging with the scholarship of teaching and learning, stared researching teaching issues and attending teaching conferences.

I now know a lot more about teaching but I also know that I will always be learning more.  I don’t think I’ll be moving past stage 3, and I actually hope I don’t because it is important if I am to keep how I teach fresh and I need to do that if I want to keep engaging my students.

One thing I am sure of is that there is no place for ego in teaching, neither in how nor what we teach.  As far as the “how” goes, even a glance at the teaching and learning scholarship shows how much there is still to learn.  And as for the “what” …. We would not be employed in academia if we did not know our own discipline areas.  The challenge is not to teach what we know but what our students need to understand.