Teaching is important. It is a wonderful opportunity to engage young minds, to enable those minds to understand the world, to question that world, and to help find themselves in that world. Communication education is becoming increasingly vital and students need to leave the education system with the requisite tools to understand the new communication ecology and tools to participate in this ecology. It is important to teach students the mechanics and the practical tools of the trade, but more importantly I believe is for them to understand the inherent power in acts of communication; something, as a researcher of such power, I understand. Media literacy, an understanding of narrative, and how to capture an audience are traits requisite for successful communicators regardless of medium or purpose. This applies for journalism students learning to inform and to strategic communication students learning to persuade, and I believe that the best in both fields are those who understand that the same lessons span across 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; having experienced doing so as an ESL teacher, a mathematics teacher for children and young adults, and lately as a researcher sharing my work with colleagues. To afford this 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 generally is of course requisite, but also knowing 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, into 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 a privilege usually in part afforded by the presence of learners at the university. It should also be remembered that it was educators who usually played a large role in moving you from one side of the lectern to the other and therefore you should repay that for the next generation, whatever their ambitions are from your teaching.
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 I am a good teacher and getting better. I enjoy the challenge of finding new ways to explain things to learners with differing learning styles. I have always enjoyed being a learner, seeing how good teachers perform, and more lately seeing what parts I would like to emulate (or steal). Teaching, like most things, gets better with practice. I like to discover what seems to work in different situations. And what does not. I hold my hands up to admit to occasions when classes have not gone well, but learning is something that happens in a classroom for both students and teachers. The syllabus for J202 was largely consistent between semesters, allowing me to use the lessons learned and attempt to improve lessons each time. I also taught J335 – an intermediate reporting course. This was another excellent learning opportunity as students by the end of this class 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 some great teachers and hope to have the opportunity to inspire another generation to enter into and succeed in this field.