Alex is a PhD tutor in the School of Social and Political Science, here he shares his thoughts on teaching, originally published on Teaching Matters in May 2016.
I wonder if great teaching starts with two moments: one, a moment of vision about what teaching is truly about; and two, a moment of recognition.
There’s an old adage that says ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’ How true that is.
And yet it seems so overlooked. So much of a Fresher’s academic experience at the University is depersonalised. They arrive having been given a matriculation number that identifies them for four years. They attend 300-person lectures where great teaching might happen, but it doesn’t foster connection.
I want to argue that the role of tutors at this university is one of the most fundamental and integral of the whole institution. We provide the hinge for staff and students to have meaningful contact and connection—especially for Freshers.
The obligation is on us to go above and beyond our job description and recognise the significance of our role. We have the opportunity to shape students’ time here and to set the tone for what their experiences will be like.
Critical to this is an encounter with our students in an act of recognition—where they are seen, valued, respected as the people they are. We need to recognise and affirm them not merely as people by some abstract principle of humanity, but as individuals with hopes and dreams, fears and anxieties that come with making the transition into university life, and as bright minds with a world of potential. The last thing teaching should ever be—in our minds as well as theirs—is transactional and based on time and money.
At its very heart, I believe that the University is about people, and at the centre of teaching is the idea of forming people. It’s about forming thinkers, dreamers, citizens, leaders, people of character—however they may choose to define that. It’s not just a matter of teaching the material and exchanging knowledge, but I passionately believe it’s about who my students are and who they’re becoming. It’s about inspiring them to see the world differently, but also, perhaps, to instil confidence in them that they might see themselves differently.
I firmly believe that my students are some of the best in the country—they are the future leaders of this nation. They are the politicians and policy makers, the diplomats, the Nobel laureates, the academics, the intellectuals, the artists, the writers of tomorrow. At the heart of my teaching philosophy is a recognition of this wealth of potential within them.
They are at one of the most prestigious and selective institutions in the world, and I believe we have a role in inspiring them to believe in their potential so passionately and fundamentally that they carry that belief with them and go on to become those people. They are here because they have all the potential in the world—the question for us should be what we do to channel that potential, to guide, to foster and develop them. I believe we have a duty to recognise that from our vantage point as their instructors, but what’s more, a duty to get them to see and recognise it within themselves.