Journey to teaching. Our first Doctoral Discussion

Our first Doctoral Discussion last Friday was an absolute success! We are so happy that so many of you decided to come and share your thoughts and experiences of teaching with us.  A link to the talk given by our speakers is available here. Additionally, I want to share with everybody the highlights of the talk and the key topics discussed.

Dr Liz Sage opened the discussion by sharing her personal path from AT to Module Convenor and what were the hard and the rewarding bits of that journey. Dr Sage convenes the popular module Starting To Teach here at Sussex. She explained what were the advantages of taking the module and also how to find out about it and sign up. She also shared with us all 20170317_121740the resources that she and her team and collaborators put together to support AT’s in their teaching activities.

Afterwards, Gabrielle Daoust, a very busy AT and last year PhD student (so very busy all around) shared her insights into teaching, offering a lot of food for thought about teaching international students and diverse classrooms, about challenging our own education while acting as teachers and a great reflection of how important it is to decolonise education at all levels.

Finally, Tom Ottway shared his very eclectic experience as a teacher and gave us some tips for encouraging participation. His reflections on teaching international students and diverse classrooms tied with those of Gabrielle Daoust and he also pointed at some of the strategies he had used to get an AT contract and the support he had received after becoming one, ending his talk by highlighting the importance of the resources mentioned by Dr Sage.

In short, it was a candid, insightful  and useful session about teaching that left me feeling like I am better prepared to embark in the journey of teaching. Here are some of the highlights of the session:

1. Teaching and Learning Toolkit

Dr Liz Sage pointed at the Teaching and Learning Toolkit, which is a new development of the Academic Development and Quality Enhancement and  Technology Enhanced Learning team that gives you tips and guidance, tips and research about best practice for all aspects of teaching and learning, along with links to resources and expertise available to staff and students at Sussex. It is being updated constantly, so please feel free to send your ideas and contributions to Dr Liz Sage at L.Sage@sussex.ac.uk

2. Teaching and Learning Experience at Sussex

Sharing your experiences as a tutor doesn’t only happen once a year at the Doctoral Discussion on teaching, you can talk to other teachers and learn more about teaching and learning strategies, as well as about available resources for all teachers at Sussex at the TaLES events, which are designed for you to get together with other teachers and share your concerns and tips – all with a free lunch!

The next event is next Thursday, 30th March at noon in the Quiet Room of the Meeting House and is about Postgraduate teaching and Critical University Studies. Book your place here

3. Starting to Teach

It seems like the long waiting lists for the Starting to Teach modules are going to get shorter, since Dr Sage announced that they will be running 8-9 courses per year now. If you want to know more about how to sign up and when the next course starts, check the link above and/or contact Emmy Bastin via startingtoteach@sussex.ac.uk

4. How to get an AT contract

What I gathered from the entire discussion was that the process of getting an AT contract is pretty obscure and not straightforward at all. The school of English is even trying to put forward a petition for their school to be more transparent about the allocation of AT roles and the entire recruitment process. It seems like most schools could use a bit more of transparency in this area. At Global Studies, we will receive an email this month and have to reply stating our interest in teaching and maybe we’ll be contacted soon with the available modules. In other schools you need to contact the person in charge at your own school and let them know you want to teach and see what they say. When in doubt, contact the school administrator and they will either be in charge of recruiting ATs or at least will know who is in charge. If you want to teach in other schools or departments, do the same, contact their schools administrators and see what they say. It seems that it will take you a couple of emails, probably a CV (better to have it ready) and a bit or patience to get those hours of teaching. Or maybe you are lucky, and your supervisor will arrange it for you or you will be contacted without having expressed interest (unlikely). So as you can see, a bit of transparency wouldn’t be bad for the whole system.

5. Should/can international students teach?

It seems like in general the answer is a straight YES. Especially if you want to stay in academia, but also if you don’t because ATs have the chance to explain themselves in public frequently, which is great training for your VIVA and your own research career. Even if you won’t stay in the UK, the experience is valuable everywhere and it will give you an idea if it’s actually what you want to do. But beware, you need to bear in mind your visa restrictions for working, because it is not only the hours in class that count, apparently you need to take into account the preparation times (multiplier) as well. Best is to get in touch with the International Student Support Service to find out about what restrictions your visa may have.

What about being a non-native English speaker? Well this was a very interesting debate, because everybody agreed on the fact that if you are here doing a PhD your English is good enough, period. However, some PhD students have been told that their knowledge of English wouldn’t be enough for teaching, which can create a certain anxiety even when considering whether to dare to stand in front of a class or not. Well, it seems like most non-native English speakers teaching at University (all the ones present at the session) have found students to be very understanding, also international students have felt more confident to take part when they see that their teacher is also a non-native speaker and in no case it has become a barrier between teachers and students. So go ahead and give it a try if you were thinking about it!

6. The big challenge: balancing PhD thesis and teaching

The big issue seems to be around the amount of time that you actually spend preparing for class vs the amount of time you get paid to do so, i.e. the amount of time you can afford to spend marking, preparing, reading, etc. Most people have learned by doing, and it seems like that is the only way. The best tip I heard was: don’t try to know everything, you are teaching to learn as well, not only giving out information.

7. How do I know if I’m doing ok?

There is a feedback questionnaire about the entire module, with not part devoted to the AT or seminars, etc. So that doesn’t help you to know what areas you could improve and what you are great at. That is why Dr Sage and Gabrielle shared their own strategy, they design their own feedback questionnaire and give it to students, whether you want to do it a couple of times during the module or at the end, is up to you. There are many ways of doing this, you can put efforts on making sure students know it won’t affect your judgement of their work assuring it is anonymous and that you will see the feedback after marking, for example, or you can use technology available to create online surveys, or  pieces of paper, etc. The main idea is to get feedback so that you can reflect on your practice and improve your skills.

And I think that is all, at least all I can remember. Drop us a line if there is anything else you would like to know or that you remember from the session that I haven’t mentioned.

Our next Doctoral Discussion is at the end of April and it will be about supervision. For that one you can sign up by sending us an email at researchhive@sussex.ac.uk, and please do so we can know how much food to order because this time we had a bit of a shortage.

Thanks for reading

Marian

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