Teaching experience isn’t enough – you have to be able to ‘talk’ teaching too

Most researchers know that, if they’re going to apply for a ‘traditional’ lectureship, their CV is strengthened by having at least a little bit of teaching experience alongside all of those successful funding bids, conference papers and academic articles.

However, what some don’t realise is that, nowadays, just having done a bit of teaching here and there isn’t enough to set you apart from the other strong candidates. Increasingly, academic staff are expected to hold a teaching qualification as well as a research qualification (the PhD), and if they don’t come into post with a qualification, they’re often expected to get one as part of their probation. In the UK, this often means either completing a Post-graduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in HE and/or becoming a Fellow or Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. In both cases, getting recognition for teaching experience and expertise involves being able to articulate your practice, giving your rationale for the decisions that you make in the classroom. Clearly, then, having experience isn’t enough – you need to be able to tallk the talk, as well as walk the walk.

If you’re applying for jobs in the US, you’re often also asked to describe your approach to teaching or ‘teaching philosophy’ as part of the applications procedure. In fact, a recent study across 6 academic disicplines found that 57% of posts required that candidates provide a teaching philosophy statement at some point, and this is even more likely if you’re applying to a college that delivers undergraduate or masters level courses. Again, it’s important that potential candidates be able to explain how and why they approach teaching in the way that they do (for some advice on writing a teaching philosophy for the US market see Writing a Teaching Philosophy)

If you’re thinking of applying for a lectureship either in the UK or in the US, there are several things that you can start doing now in order to prepare yourself for having to talk about your teaching:

1. Treat your teaching in the same way that you do your research. You wouldn’t carry out your research in isolation without consulting what others think or have already tried before. You also wouldn’t try to do research without getting feedback or discussing your ideas with more experienced colleagues and peers. The same is true of teaching – you shouldn’t be trying to reinvent the wheel, you should be trying to practice in a professional, informed and structured way.

2. Familiarise yourself with the key writers, concepts and terms. There is a whole literature, language and body of research into learning and teaching in Higher Education, so begin to do a bit of reading. An easy introduction (which is relatively free of jargon) is Paul Ramsden’s ‘Learning to Teach in Higher Education’, but there are also many journals (available elctronically through the library) that publish scholarly articles. For some suggestions about what to read, see:

http://tiny.cc/id8Sg

For discipline-specific help and resources, the Higher Education Subject Centre network is a great place to start:

http://tiny.cc/oGQts

3. Collect evidence of your practice as you go. If you decide to do a teaching and learning course at some point in the future, you will probably need to compile a teaching portfolio and that will need to contain evidence to support the claims that you make about your approach to teaching. Things like lesson plans, feedback from students, reading lists, feedback that you have given to students, materials for Blackboard or websites can all be used to show that you practice what you preach.

4. Observe someone else’s teaching. You will have seen loads of teaching in your life – from teachers at school to your PhD supervisor – but you will probably have been more focussed on what they were teaching rather than how they were teaching it. Sitting in on a class when you don’t have to pay attention to the content frees you up to pay attention to the process of teaching. This is even more effective if you observe a teacher in a completely different discipline, as the chances are you won’t have a clue what they’re talking about. Furthermore, different disciplines often have quite different ways of teaching, using different techniques, structures and approaches and this can give you great ideas for new things to try. Find out who the people with a reputation for good teaching are, and ask to sit in on a lecture or class. You may also find it useful to ask someone to sit in on one of your classes – it can be daunting, but is often an extremely useful way of getting constructive feedback. Many universities now also use teaching observations as part of their quality assurance procedures, so it’s worth getting used to being watched in a supportive and formative environment.

5. Talk to experienced lecturers about teaching. In academia, people spend a lot of time talking about their research, and much less talking about their teaching. However, more experienced colleagues are not only a mine of information (they’ve been there, done that several times over), but having conversations about teaching also gets you used to articulating your approach and being able to argue your case.

6. Spend some time reflecting on your teaching. Some people find it useful to keep a brief teaching journal, especially if they intend to write a portfolio or make an application to the Higher Education Academy. In both cases, you ‘ll be expected to reflect on how successful your teaching is, and how you might improve it in future. Keeping notes about what has gone particularly well in some classes or not so well in others clearly helps you to identify successful approaches, but it also gets you used to writing in the reflective style required in portfolios and HEA applications.

This might seem like a lot of hard work when you’re much more likely to be judged on your research than you are on your teaching. However, not only will a professional approach to teaching help to set you apart from other candidates, it will make your first year in that new lectureship easier and ought to make teaching itself more rewarding. What’s more, there are an increasing number of Universities offering teaching-only posts and career pathways right up to professorial level. Finally (if you need any more convincing!) I secured my first post (a Departmental Lectureship in Educational Development at Oxford) on the strength of my commitment to teaching (including my Post-Grad certificate), rather than my PhD or publications record – so you really never know where that job will come from.

If you want to learn more about making an application for recognition by the Higher Education Academy, you can sign up for a workshop at the Research Staff Training Calendar. The sesion will be on March 10th, 12.30-14.00 in University Place 5.206:

http://tiny.cc/x681n

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