As a research student about to embark on my first ever teaching experience I’m filled with apprehension and anxiety, constantly asking myself the question ‘can I actually do it?’ For me, the practice of teaching in Higher Education often still feels very much higher than myself. Having graduated with my BA in American Studies only two years ago this month and still feeling very much at the beginning of my postgraduate research degree (and my research career more widely) the idea of now contributing to the teaching on my previous BA programme feels very strange. I was really lucky as an undergraduate student to have a fantastic lecturing team who shaped enormously my very positive experience of learning and engagement with academia, as well as my research interests and my career ambitions. For me then, beginning my own teaching career means giving these same positive learning experiences to my own students, and it is this anticipation that fills me with questions such as ‘can I do it?’.
When speaking to a colleague who has just recently begun his own teaching career alongside postgraduate study and work, his words of advice were to remember that ‘as the expert in your field you are already ahead when it comes to teaching’. This advice made me reflect on my own undergraduate student experience. I realised that what inspired me and fuelled my learning most during this period was the passion and enthusiasm shown my own lecturers in their respective fields. While teaching methods varied along with methods of assessment and feedback – all of which contribute enormously to learning and the student experience more widely – the passion underlying this teaching was engaging and contagious, and bought to life the challenging theories, concepts and discussions in a critical but accessible and very tangible way. This realisation that the practice of teaching is shaped so much by this process of knowledge exchange (a notion that now seems fairly obvious) has filled me with more confidence than ever in my anticipation of teaching for the first time. It is a realisation that has allowed me more and more to be able to place myself alongside and within academia, research and teaching in Higher Education, rather than feeling on the boundaries of it all and constantly looking in.
At this early stage in my research and teaching career, it is the understanding and embracing of the intrinsic relationship between research and teaching, and in turn teaching and learning that is important and that has given me confidence in my own ability to teach. I feel more comfortable than ever that my initial encounter of teaching will be an engaging experience of dialogue, discussion and knowledge exchange for both my students and myself. I also anticipate that teaching will without a doubt be a learning experience for me in itself, with the strengthening of my own teaching practices inevitably coming with time.