Concerned about classroom behaviour? Not sure how to prepare for your teaching, or worried about those tricky questions your students might come up with? Whether you’re currently teaching, or if you think you might start teaching in the near future, you can benefit from advice from other City PhD students (from a variety of schools and disciplines) all about the experience of teaching as a research student.
Five videos look at the following subjects (and can be accessed directly by using the links, or by scrolling down this page):
Many, many thanks to Abeer Elbahrawy, Alex Gilder, Lee Jones, Alex Powell, Marianna Rolbina and Deanna Taylor for providing the excellent tips and discussion in the videos, and to my colleague Fariha Choi for the recording and editing work!
Where better to get advice about teaching at City as a PhD students than from other current PhD students or postdocs who have been teaching for a while? They have experienced the same issues and concerns as you have, and so you can learn from their experiences. In this first video, Abeer Elbahrawy, Alex Gilder, Lee Jones, Alex Powell, Marianna Rolbina and Deanna Taylor discuss how to prepare for teaching.
The advice includes what the participants wished they’d known before they started teaching, covering aspects such as:
- thinking about how you come across to students
- how to cope with worries about starting teaching and asking for help (including distracting yourself before a class and shadowing others)
- not needing to know everything, but anticipating student questions
- the importance of rehearsing and knowing your material
- and that teaching does get easier with time, and that the students do want to learn from and with you!
In the second video with teaching advice from PhD students, Abeer Elbahrawy, Alex Gilder, Lee Jones, Alex Powell, Marianna Rolbina and Deanna Taylor discuss how to establish authority in the classroom, and how to engage students – key concerns that many people have around teaching.
The advice covers:
- the power of anecdotes, cultural references and asking students questions
- thinking about room dynamics – where are you placed in relation to the students?
- how to balance helping students with valuing your own time – perhaps through the use of office hours
- sharing your passion about a subject with students
One of my big fears when I started teaching as a PhD student was my students asking questions I didn’t know the answer to – I was worried about my level of subject knowledge and thought that students would be eager to catch me out and expose me as a fraud who wasn’t good enough to be instructing them.
In the third video with advice from PhD students, Abeer Elbahrawy, Alex Gilder, Lee Jones, Alex Powell, Marianna Rolbina and Deanna Taylor provide some solutions for dealing with this situation if it arises – although I can assure you that the vast majority of the students who you will teach will not be deliberately attempting to find the gaps in your knowledge!
The video suggests:
- being honest when you don’t know something – it’s normal and fine to not know everything
- looking into the answer after class
- showing the student how they can find the solution – modelling your process for this will be really helpful for them and is often a more useful thing for them to learn than the answer itself
- referring students to a colleague who might specialise in the area
A key aspect to consider when you start teaching is your teaching identity. What kind of teacher do you want to be, and what kind of persona will you adopt? Will you be similar to those who have taught you, or other teachers in your department, or different? What’s the connection between your personality, and other identities you have (such as a PhD student, researcher, professional, friend, carer), and your teaching identity? This idea of who you are as a teacher, or your persona, is also closely linked to the kinds of relationships you have or want to have with the students you teach – for example, will you treat them as peers, or create a hierarchy?
There’s no one right answer to these questions, or one correct persona to adopt – I firmly believe that education benefits from diversity in teaching identities. Nevertheless, I also think this is an important aspect to consider, and is something that we examine in detail during the Establishing a Teaching Persona course at City.
These issues are discussed in the fourth video with advice from PhD students about teaching. Here, Abeer Elbahrawy, Alex Gilder, Lee Jones, Alex Powell, Marianna Rolbina and Deanna Taylor elaborate on the process of establishing their own teaching personas, and the kinds of relationships they construct with the students whom they teach. They talk about being:
- relatable – through having been in their students’ position very recently
- friendly (but professional) and supportive
- an advisor
- informal – but also maintaining boundaries
- authoritative through a professional presentation
- firm but fair – balancing praise and criticism
There’s also an exploration of the rewarding nature of teaching students, and the pride that is gained by seeing students learn.
Teaching was a really rewarding part of my PhD experience, but it wasn’t always easy to juggle preparing for classes with all the reading and writing I had to do for my thesis, attending and organising conferences, commuting and trying to maintain some part of my life that didn’t revolve around the university!
The balancing act that is teaching whilst undertaking a PhD along with all the other existing commitments you have is addressed in the fifth video with advice from City PhD students. Abeer Elbahrawy, Alex Gilder, Lee Jones, Alex Powell, Marianna Rolbina and Deanna Taylor have some suggestions that might help. They talk about:
- dividing your week into teaching and research days
- being strict about how much time you set aside for teaching
- knowing when to say no
- making the most of non-teaching time in the summer
- being realistic about what you can do – perhaps finishing in four years rather than three
- the benefits of teaching – seeing good exam results, gaining confidence, inspiring students’ interest and importantly, having some human interaction!
This video offers PhD students’ most important piece of advice about teaching:
Other videos offer suggestions about different aspects of teaching which are particularly relevant to PhD students:
- how to maintain the boundaries of the graduate teaching role
- how much help to give students (so, what the difference is between helping them learn and doing it for them)
- coping with not always knowing all the answers (you never will, even as an esteemed professor!)