Teaching is vital. It is a wonderful opportunity to engage young minds, to enable those minds to understand the world, to question that world, and to help them find themselves in that world. Communication education is becoming increasingly important and students need to leave the higher education system with the requisite tools to understand and participate effectively in the new communication ecology. It is important to teach students the mechanics and the practical tools of the trade, but I believe that it is even more important that they are taught the inherent power that resides in acts of communication. As a researcher of such power, I understand this, and it is one of the fundamental things that I focus on in my teaching, where I have taught such fundamental traits as media literacy, an understanding of narrative, and how to capture an audience across an array of media. This applies to journalism students who are learning how to inform as well as to strategic communication students learning to persuade, and I believe in ensuring that students in both fields understand these fundamental lessons that span the divide.
I believe that a student who is enjoying a class is an engaged and interested student, and I believe that the same applies to a teacher. Part of the reason I have chosen this profession is that I have always enjoyed the art of teaching and feel that my enjoyment sets the atmosphere in the class. I enjoy being at the front of a room sharing my thoughts and knowledge with others. I first entered the classroom during my undergraduate degree as an ESL teacher, and after pursuing a teaching certification I was a mathematics teacher for children and young adults, and finally in my PhD I have worked in the classroom teaching university undergraduate students in journalism and mass communication. To afford an enjoyable atmosphere, however, requires confidence from the students in their abilities and the ability of the teacher; students will not enjoy a lesson where they lack confidence in the knowledge of the instructor and his/her ability to convey that knowledge. The key to this is preparation. Knowing the subject well is of course a prerequisite, but it is also vital to know what you want the students to take from the course, the lecture, and the current content.
I believe that teaching can energize your research, and research can help energize your teaching. It is of course difficult to balance these apparent competing demands, but I think that treating them as complimentary can help alleviate this. I am passionate about what I research and try to bring in this work, when apposite, to the class. I think it is important for university researchers to always remember that the privilege of being able to spend one’s days working on projects of personal interest is afforded in large part by the presence of students at the university. I am also indebted to the excellent teachers and mentors who I have been lucky enough to have over the years, and they have inspired me as well as given me an excellent toolkit of effective teaching strategies to draw on in my own classroom.
The feedback I have received recently from courses I have taught gives me confidence that I have at least partly fulfilled these goals. However, it would be supreme arrogance to claim any sort of mastery over the art of teaching, and I hope to never try to make such a claim. I do believe that I am a good teacher and that I have already improved immensely from when I first set foot at the front of a classroom. I enjoy the challenge of finding new ways to explain things to students with different learning styles. I have always enjoyed learning, seeing how good teachers perform, and more lately seeing what parts I would like to emulate. Teaching, like most things, gets better with practice. I like to discover what works in different situations and what does not. I hold my hands up to admit to occasions when classes have not gone well, but when things have gone awry, I have actively reflected on them and sought to improve them the next time around. The syllabus for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mass Communication Practices (J202) course was largely consistent between semesters, allowing me to use the lessons that I learned and attempt to improve the classes each time. I also served as a teaching assistant for Principles and Practices of Reporting (J335), which is an intermediate reporting course. This was another excellent learning opportunity as by the end of this class students are expected to be producing publishable-quality material. It was exciting and gratifying to see such improvement in students over just two semesters. It has also been fantastic to see former students already prospering in prominent roles in journalism and other communication fields.
This is clearly an important time to be providing young minds with the desire to enter an industry unlikely to offer great riches or an easy life. But we really do need, perhaps now more than ever, talented and inquisitive students to do just that. I have been inspired personally by great teachers and hope to have the opportunity to inspire another generation to enter into and succeed in this field.
Copyright © 2018 Ceri Hughes - All Rights Reserved.