Teaching: it is about what makes you tick not box ticking

The BSc Psychology team held an end of year feedback session with our Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) today. The day was about reflecting on the teaching this year and looking forward to next year’s teaching, including the new modules that will come on stream for our second year students.

The final session was about applying to be an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and I was lucky enough to be able to lead the session. We talked about the criteria and the logistics of putting in an application through the King’s programme (Teaching Recognition at King’s, TRaK). We asked the GTAs to reflect on their practice in the areas of activity laid out by the UK Professional Standards Framework, which serve as a national benchmark for teaching and learning support in higher education. We also asked them to start to think about their personal statement, a challenging part of the application that has to be reflective, personal and evidence-based. Specifically, I asked them to try to answer the following questions:

1. Why do I teach?
2. Why do I teach the way that I do?
3. How to I see teaching in my career trajectory?

Many of those present are completing their PhDs and therefore engrossed in their research but as we talked about these questions and why they should be thinking about them, I started to reflect more the role of teaching and learning in academia. This might seem strange – you might think surely teaching and learning are central to universities. I would certainly agree that this is the case but often the recognition for educational activities seems to be secondary to research activities. This has always puzzled me because I think the two are best seen as two sides of the same coin, with the coin in question being your passion for a discipline.

I am passionate about my discipline and I love spending time in the lab and writing papers but there is little point in having that passion if it is not disseminated to future generations and teaching is an excellent way to do this. Teaching is also intrinsically rewarding and the rewards are far more immediate than may be the case with research. I have spent many hours, more than care to think about, in a lab working on experiments that do not work or applying for funding without success, but I have never had a single teaching session where I haven’t enjoyed it or learnt something. Of course, research is rewarding, but often I will wait years for the small breakthrough – something teaching gives you when just one student gets to grips with a difficult concept or asks a question that demonstrates a higher level of thinking. Combining the rewards of both teaching and research makes for a career I feel privileged to have. For me, teaching is simply part of what makes me tick because it is an equal partner in that discipline passion but I think I have only recognised this through reflecting on my teaching from very early on in my career. It has never been about ticking a box, and I actually think I would not do it so well if it was just about that. Encouraging people to see teaching as part of that passion for a discipline by supporting reflection and development, through recognition, instead of a box ticking exercise, is also likely to improve standards across the board and probably job satisfaction.

Most universities are now starting to show clear recognition for educational activities. This is evident at King’s with the TRaK programme and I hope many of our GTAs will start an ongoing cycle of reflective practice with the Associate Fellow application and continue to develop in the future to higher levels of recognition. But there are also other ways to recognise education contributions. The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience will shortly be holding and event to recognise the teaching and learning achievements of staff. These steps are a good way to encourage people who are tentative about teaching to engage and reflect on it and let it be part of what makes them tick.


Written by:

Ellie Dommett

Senior Lecturer in Psychology

Department of Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience

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