I have joined a PGCert program and plan to post blog material on my studies on the website. Here is my first post:
Week 1 – What Makes a Good Teacher?
School was a time of organised sports, some sciences, music and more sport. I left school in 1984, not an auspicious year, and joined a working world as my friends all joined university. In the upper sixth, I was ‘co-chairperson’ of the school, but with only 11 students completing A levels in a failing comprehensive, there wasn’t too much competition. The school was merged out of existence when the Head retired. It is now a sports centre.
I have a formal diagnosis of Dyslexia, which has long shaped my education, though not always in a negative way, and which is possibly more likely to be DCD (formerly known as Dyspraxia) which has a wider range of influences on cognition of people with this neurological condition. The final diagnosis was a late response, triggered by the illegibility of sections of my MA dissertation. I had already secured a place on the PhD programme at Sussex and received AHRC funding for my project, so the final submission had come as a shock to both of my supervisors. Sussex and the MA in Digital Media was my first experience of Higher education on a full-time basis, and the lecturers were uniformly amazing. I have worked there since 2010, in part due to their ability to offer, and receive, a new outlook in almost all situations.
My bachelor’s degree was very different. This was studied on a part-time basis at Birkbeck, University of London. This startlingly original institute was established in 1823 to provide adult education opportunities to the tradesmen of London. Here, you can study for a degree in the evening between 6 PM & 9 PM, with the course lasting four years. Lecturers here are used to gerrymandering knowledge to lectures of 120 students a session. There was no grant support when I attended, and the chief compensation was offered in the form of a subsidised bar. The head of module offered a wonderful reference to Sussex when I first applied for the Masters, and again when I continued studies with the PhD, but I suspect he was confusing me with another student.
Each institute has left an experience which has shaped my intellectual curiosity and approach to learning. I am fortunate in that I find everything interesting. I suspect this is a consequence of DCD rather than any supernatural abilities. I will give everything a go. This is an outlook which has led to no end of trouble in the past but has left me with a methodology which is informed by a love of experience. The approach used in my thesis is qualitative and anthropological, examining the cultural impact of the digitalisation of the book, as explained by a variety of communities of people who use the book in various ways. I believe comfort zones are to be avoided at all times.
I try to develop a willingness to try in students. I only advise caution on ethical grounds or where the scope of the project is too ambitious. I am likely to suggest people look beyond themselves and understand that they are already a fabulous source of information. I have expanded my earlier methods to include auto-ethnographic and auto-novel approaches and try to impress on my student groups that a journal is an essential tool in their research armoury. My PhD thesis was entirely stitched together from journal fragments, with sections being written and rewritten repeatedly, and I use sections of my research and writing in level 6 classes on qualitative methods. However, the process of reading my own text is like being skinned alive. I read in a gloom, waiting for the spoonerism to appear, highlighting my neural malformation. Reading feedback is even worse, giving me a sense of jeopardy normally associated with horror movies. I will delay reading feedback for weeks, or months where possible. Some of this I place on the experience of past teaching, and the earlier support of an enlightened tutor might have changed my outlook.
There are stages for every teacher. I suspect everyone starts out with the belief that they must be charismatic, demanding attention and controlling thought with an enigmatic smile. Once reality has shaken this belief out of us, we find a path of reflectivity that enables lessons to be polished through repetition. The notion of ‘becoming reflexive’ reads as a natural extension; the reflexive project of the self is a concept by Anthony Giddens (1991) which I have taught to students for a number of years, and the blend of Foucault, Butler and Deleuze (in the society of Control, 1996) offers a model for the relationship between contemporary student and lecturer as guide/expert/allies.