Last week I got to be part of a training event run by E-NOTE, a EU-funded project to understand and develop teaching excellence. I should also say I’m on their advisory board, but don’t hold that against them.
My session dealt with the question of the difficulties of moving from any theoretical consideration of what makes teaching ‘excellent’ (and yes, that’s a whole big discussion by itself) to a practical operationalisation.
For me, that means working with the constraints you face. That runs from the physical space you have access to, to institutional requirements on accessibility and assessment, to the nature and number of your students, not to mention all the other stuff you yourself have going on. Some of these you can’t really change, while others you can subvert or even push back on, but in all cases they shape what and how you teach.
One of the themes that emerged from the discussion – for me, at least – was the implicit need for someone to be bothered about working towards excellent pedagogy.
Given all the hassles that we face in putting together classes, navigating institutional policies and regulations and committees, trying to make running adjustments to better fit students’ needs, the question does arise of what’s the point? Especially if you just end up with mediocre evaluations at the end and some kind of ‘developmental’ meeting with a line manager to ‘get better’.
And I say this as someone who’s had all of that, right up to now. If fancy stuff doesn’t really seem to be valued, why don’t we just stick to the old fashioned way of doing class and read them a lecture?
At one level is this an easy question, because the kind of people who read this blog care intrinsically about teaching: we do it because we think it’s valuable and important and worth working on, well before anyone else – our employer, for example – suggests it’s also part of your contractual duties to ‘teach good’.
But that self-motivation can be hard to sustain, especially when the demands seem to grow all the time.
And if you’re finding it hard to keep on plugging away, then you might feel no one else is going to help with this either.
However, it is precisely through sharing with colleagues that there is a way forward. Your institution might not really understand what you’re trying to do, or the pressures you face (although they should), but those you work with (inside and outside your uni) will have a pretty good idea.
And because everywhere’s a bit different, everyone’s got a different set of challenges, or a different set of responses to draw on. And that can be a real help to you, to share, to empathise, to get fresh takes, and to give them too.
So reaching out is worth it. Together we can share the load and help us all get to where we want our teaching to be, for our students and for us.
And yes, you can take that as an invitation to drop me a line.