Depending on the subject you teach and how advanced you are in your career, as an HE lecturer you will probably have a lot of autonomy over what it is you actually teach the students. Colleagues will have to approve your suggestions and will act to prevent erroneous or just plain bonkers material being taught, but on the whole, it’s up to you! Not so school teachers of course. But a recent government directive on the teaching of history could well impact on my own classroom experience.
A few weeks ago the history of slavery was made a compulsory part of the secondary school curriculum in England. Students will be taught about Britain’s involvement in the slave trade, how it benefited our empire but also how British campaigners helped to drive the abolition movement in the eighteenth century. As an American historian, teaching about slavery has always been a big part of my job. So, how will these changes affect what I do as a university teacher?
It could go one of two ways: either students will be enthused by what they have learned at school and will sign up to slavery courses at university in droves, or they will think ‘oh, I have ‘done’ slavery, there’s nothing more I need to know about it’. On an intellectual and practical level I hope it’s the former. University education is very different to school learning and you can tackle a similar subject in a totally new way. Also, it would be great for me if more students wanted to learn about my subject. I get to teach what I am passionate about and am an invaluable member of my department.
All signs are that more students will want to take slavery courses at university. After all, they currently learn about Hitler and Stalin in their history lessons and at university 20th century courses on Germany and Russia are among the most popular. Students think they will be at an advantage if they have studied something before, so sign up to those courses even though in fact the opposite might be true.
So it’ll be interesting to see whether this directive has an impact on my own teaching over the next one to ten years. And it show the importance of keeping abreast not only of your own field at HE level, but also what’s going on in schools too!