Let’s get professional: advice for new university teachers

No matter if you’re a just-minted postdoc or transferring from industry to academia, a professional approach will give your new teaching career a solid foundation. In this video, Carl Sherwood shares his top tips

Carl Sherwood's avatar
24 Aug 2022
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Key Details

This video will cover:

00:41 Where do you start?

01:12 Developing a student-centred approach to teaching

03:11 Advantages and disadvantages of a professional approach


Hello, my name’s Carl Sherwood from the University of Queensland. I’ve been invited to share some teaching tips for early career academics. You may have recently completed a PhD or perhaps you are an experienced industry professional changing career. In nearly all cases, though, you probably have limited teaching experiences.

Preparing and delivering your first class can be a daunting experience for new teachers and the impacts of Covid-19 on teaching and learning have only added to the challenge.

So, where do you start? My advice would be to take a professional approach to teaching. In other words, learn techniques, then put them into practice – just as any professional would. Think of an engineer or a dentist.

To develop a professional teaching approach, what I’m really talking about is undertaking some form of teacher training.

So, why adopt a professional approach to teaching? The main reason is that you will develop a student-centred teaching approach. This means one that focuses on students, their struggles and how you can support their learning.

This is in contrast to a teacher-centred approach, which is really just about delivering content, content, content.

By focusing on your students and their learning, you’ll find that opportunities emerge where you can design and implement teaching innovations. You will be able to collect data on things like their learning outcomes. Reflecting on this will help you refine and improve your teaching. It can then evidence your professionalism towards teaching and learning, which will be very handy for future promotions.

Adopting a professional approach right from the start clearly makes sense in terms of building a long-term academic teaching career.

So, how do you build a professional approach?

There are some key things you can do. First, try to complete a teaching development programme. It might take up to six months part time to finish it, but it really is worth the effort. It will give you some insights into theories about teaching and learning, which you can then put into practice.

Second, visit some great teachers’ classes and observe them in action. It’s a good way to get ideas on how to effectively deliver course content or get students to participate during class.

Third, find a teaching mentor to observe some of your classes to provide constructive feedback. And fourth, seek out professional teaching networks at your institution to get tips on teaching. They usually have experts who can help with the design of courses and assessment tasks.

There are other advantages in taking a professional approach to teaching and learning.

First, it provides a framework on how to go about teaching. In other words, it will help you make sense of what good teaching looks like.

Second, it will help build your teaching confidence by learning to systematically reflect on your teaching performance so as to continuously improve. And third, students tend to actively participate in their learning when they see a teacher who cares about them. That will make getting out of bed in the morning totally worth it.

Yet there are some disadvantages, too.

First, it clearly requires extra time and effort. However, academic teaching is a lifelong journey that requires ongoing reflection and refinement. What works today in teaching might not work tomorrow. A professional approach can provide the tools to help you adapt and learn.

And, second, implementing an educational intervention you designed to overcome a student learning issue sometimes might not work, but more importantly what you learn from this will help you refine your teaching practice further.

In summary, my point is to recognise that teaching matters. So, it makes sense to start off on the right foot by taking a professional approach. You can’t go wrong.

It helped make my academic teaching career rewarding both personally and academically. I’m sure the approach will go a long way in setting you up for a successful academic teaching career, too.

This video was produced by Carl Sherwood, a senior lecturer in the School of Economics at the University of Queensland.

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