Voice file name: Helen Jones
sounds like
My name is Helen Jones and I’m the Discipline Lead at the Higher Education Academy for Sociology
that also includes Criminology, Anthropology and really anything along those sorts of cognate
disciplines and I’ll pretty much go to any university that invites me to go along.
I work at Manchester Metropolitan University as well, I’ve been there for eleven years now and I
teach Criminology; I’ve taught Social Policy, Sociology and currently I’m teaching the Post Graduate
Certificate in Higher Education. We have a lot new to teaching staff that are very aspirational and
want to secure their first foot on the ladder and the PG Cert is probably the best way to go about doing
I suppose one example of where I really struggled as a new teacher in higher education was the
example from many, many years ago, I think it was the first year of teaching and I was supposed to be
shadowing a colleague who was very experience to find out how she taught and to pick up hints and
tips and to sit really with the student body, but watch her as she lectured.
So that first day we were walking to the lecture hall and actually got to the door when she turned to
me and said, I don’t feel very well, you teach them! I was horrified, I actually did walk into the
lecture hall, I didn’t turn on my heel and run out. I walked into the lecture hall with no notes, with no
concept of what I was going to talk about, no preparation at all because I’d been expecting to be in the
audience. So the session thankfully was on social identity, so I started them off with how do you
know who I am? But it was a scary business.
The thing that’s really excited me along the line in my teaching role has been working with passionate
students; that’s not to say that all students are passionate about their studies; people come to
university for a lot of different reasons. It’s very easy to get to know those students who’ve got a
hunger for the subject and want to do well and they are the ones who are a real joy to work with; but
they can also be a lot of hard work. They are the ones who will come along to your office, out of
office hours, and say is it okay if we just chat for a while and before you know it half an hour or an
hour has gone by and you’ve had a fascinating conversation but all those emails that you really
needed to get answered are still there waiting to be dealt with.
But that’s the joy of teaching, you don’t really know what that next cohort of students is going to
bring you and yes, they may bring difficulties, but they’ll bring those passionate students too, and for
me that’s the joy.
I suppose the best example of a light bulb moment for me in my teaching surrounds the issue of
feedback. Feedback, I think, is the poor cousin of teaching and assessment; we tend to forget about
feedback but actually it can be one of the most important parts, but we have to be very clear with our
students about what feedback is and that light bulb moment for me came, when I was still relatively
new and inexperienced teacher, and I was using the seminar time to give feedback to students on their
essays. They were picking their essays up from me and the feedback sheet but I was holding onto it
while I was giving them some verbal feedback. One of the students said to me, well this is all well
and good telling me what the good points were about my essay, well I know that because I’m the
person who wrote it, and telling me what the bad points were; thank you for that but when am I going
to get my real feedback?
I said well what do you mean by real feedback? And they said when am I going to get the printed
sheet that tells me what my feedback is? I said well this is feedback and I’m going to give you the
written sheet obviously, but this is feedback what we are doing right now, this conversation that we
are having about your assignment. The student hadn’t even ever thought about verbal feedback being
‘real’ feedback and I think this is something we all have to bear in mind, particularly as the NSS, the
National Student Survey, has a particular section dedicated to did you get good and timely feedback?
We need to be careful that our students actually know that when we are talking to them about their
assignments – that’s feedback.
Okay, so what piece of advice can I give to you, from my years of experience of teaching? I suppose
I’d like to give you a couple of bits of advice really. The first piece of advice is take a breath;
students don’t know the pace at which you plan to go, if things fall apart and you’re not too sure
what’s happening, take a breath. Take a sip of that bottle of water that you should always have with
you, because it will give you really valuable fifteen seconds of thinking time. So that’s my first piece
of advice; take a breath.
My second piece of advice is get to know household stuff in your building. So get to know the
cleaner, get to know the person in charge of car parking, because they are probably the most important
people to know. The cleaner that we had on the floor where I worked, she always used to tell me
when the fire drill practice was going to happen, so that I could be prepared and I knew if it was going
to happen half way through my class; so that was immensely important.
The third piece of advice I’d like to give to you is always have a pack of post-it notes about your
person, because if your lecture falls apart and you lose your way or if you’ve forgotten to prepare for
a class or you lose your way half way through that class and you think I’m not really sure what I’m
supposed to be doing with them right now, you can take out the pack of post-it notes, pass them
around and say to students I want you to write one sentence which poses a question about what we’ve
just been covering; or write a sentence which covers those elements of the session that we’ve already
had; or write one sentence which is a question that you would like me to answer for you. You can
either do it in class and extend that time that you’ve got with the students, or you can do it [s.l.] online
learning; make sure that you do actually respond to what they’ve written on the post-it notes, but
you’ll find the post-it notes are probably your best friend.