Elizabeth Gardiner on teaching in academia

I started teaching almost by chance, I was working as a designer/front end dev, looking out for new opportunities, and somehow ended up running my very own Foundation Degree. I’d not really considered teaching before but as soon as I started doing the job I knew it was “the one” I already loved web design and turned out I was naturally good at teaching.

At first, full of enthusiasm and ideas, I was ready to fix all evils of web design in academic education. Lots of people have, due to first or second hand experience, negative opinions of Web Design education. I felt the same and saw this as an opportunity to make something amazing, tell these backwards folk in their tweed, leather elbowed jackets how its done. My opinions soon changed once I was in the reality of doing a job like mine.

I’m lucky to be in a college environment because it allows me much more flexibility in what I do, then say a University, but its not unlimited. I needed to learn huge amounts about teaching, because (as I soon discovered) just turning up and knowing my subject well was not enough to be an effective teacher and run a course.

Educational institutions are huge, and processes and guidelines need to be followed in order for them to be good at what they do. Delivering academia.

I don’t come to work each day and get a group of interested, motivated students. We work with humans: their fears, their worries, their stress and its really hard work sometimes. For 2 years of their life they depend on me to be their teacher, trouble shooter, problem solver, critic, counsellor, friend and motivator. Every student is different, they are good at different things, learn in different ways and different speeds and I need to give them all equally the best I can, all at the same time.

Sometimes I’ve spent hours trying to motivate a student to do better in their work, only to see them throw it away. I feel like I’m failing them, even though its their choice. But often my work helps a student to be successful, and that to me is worth all the frustrations.

I often hear people saying that there’s no point to education. Plenty of people have proven that self teaching can work well, I’m even self taught myself, but the benefits of doing a course is so much more then compiling new technical skills. We build relationships, support, confidence, academia (yes it is important), creativity, diversity and opportunities. There’s some great courses out there, it may not be for you personally, but for a lot of people it can make a real difference to their lives.

There are hugely talented people, in their subject specialisms, who regularly work on real projects within their industries and know their subject first hand working in our institutions. I find that its very far from “Those that teach can’t do” I actually have more opportunities to develop my practice and learn new things then I ever did when I was on the front line in agency work and I often learn from my students as they discover and develop.

So before you criticise a course, maybe go find out what they do or get involved in making it better!

Back to or back to Thoughts