I finished my first full semester of university teaching yesterday, having had the pleasure of working with sixty-two pre-service English teachers in their final year before the classroom. In many ways this caps off my introduction to a place that is both familiar and foreign. On the one hand, I’ve managed to survive (and even thrive) on the strength of my decade of teaching experience, drawing on many of the strategies, resources, technologies and approaches – including the talent, ideas and values of those teachers who have shaped me. Although I’m yet to receive any feedback from my formal evaluations, many of my students have commented on my willingness to teach by example. As one student remarked, “a lot of lecturers out there tell students about pedagogy – you’re one of the few who actually do pedagogy.”
I like to think about what I do as a form of “warts and all” teaching – where I make tonnes of mistakes, learn from them and share my insights in the process. I’ve really given up on perfection and the idea that there is an elusive model of a perfect teacher still waiting for me to discover. Sure, there are a multitude of teachers who are better than I’ll ever be, but I think that mistakes are far more valuable to learn from.
On the other hand, university teaching can be quite a different place to the secondary classroom, and I’m learning quickly that I need to invest, equally in becoming the best researcher I can be. One of the most inspiring discoveries that any newcomer to the academic world can make – and needs to make – is that research and practice can go together hand in hand. For me, it’s the kind of research that makes me a better teacher that I feel I could easily make my life’s work. The fact that I’m in the right place and the right time means that my work life 2013 really couldn’t get much better.