Teaching in Higher Education was a bit of an accidental/slightly detoured pathway for me. However, I can confidently say this ‘accident’, or detour, of working in HE was a unique and privileged experience.
Originally, the plan for me was to to embark on a Masters degree. At the same time I was approached and offered the opportunity to teach on a PE and Sports degree. Now, having just graduated from this very course I couldn’t help but think to myself ”Really? Me?”. Regardless, it felt good knowing that some of my former educators had seen potential in me to work for and alongside them.
As a novice to the world of teaching in HE, I found myself gaining an insiders view on how the magic unfolds behind the scenes in a HE department. For me, every day was a learning experience and upon reflection I have narrowed down 3 aspects of that learning experience.
The 3 things I learned are:
- The Responsibility to students
As an undergraduate, I don’t think I fully appreciated the effort that goes into enhancing our student experience. At the time, it seemed like educators were there to simply educate us and guide us down the pathway of success. Nowadays, I can’t help but think how oblivious many of us were of our own and each others’ vulnerabilities. The position as an educator allowed me to become more appreciative towards these challenges that students, and educators, continue to face in HE. Some of these vulnerabilities include issues surrounding mental health, academic struggles, and personal issues to name a few. As educators, you want your students to succeed, as it is a reflection of you in someways. With that, I was a frequent witness in seeing the influence of our moral compasses playing a major role in carrying out our responsibilities towards our students.
2. Teaching ‘teaches’ you things
Some might say teaching is a form of art. Others say it is a combinaition of skill and character. Regardless, educators endeavor to learn from and develop their craft every day. One of the beautiful things I found about teaching was the ability to learn from others, including students of course. An example being where I found myself learning from my colleagues with a combined experience of 1-40 years. From watching how they interact with students to conducting themselves in team meetings, I got a mixed flavour of teaching personalities. I even found myself replicating these behaviours to the point were I started to unrecognise myself. It was at this stage I learned the importance of being your own unique individual whilst also learning from others. As for the students, well, I often felt they were the ones teaching me! As a result, this ignited a surge in desire to somehow better myself.
3. Knowing Yourself
Might sound simple but knowing yourself can be a tricky concept. After all, I was meant to only do my Masters degree yet I had the chance to educate HE students unexpectedly thrown at me. Thankfully this experience did happen because it allowed me begin piecing together what I was good at and where I needed to improve as a person. Being able to begin understanding my abilities, my limits, my values, my confidence and competence were all part of this fulfilling ‘knowing myself’ process. And of course, this still continues today!
Working in HE can be a fulfilling but complex environment to work in. Challenges exist around every corner but the rewards are the surprises that keep reeling you back in. As for me, the rookie postgraduate at the time, this unexpected leap of faith enabled me to learn about myself in ways I didn’t even know. And for that, I would highly recommend the experience to anyone!