I recently took on a new role as an Open Studies course tutor here at the University of Edinburgh. I was teaching my subject, something I am used to, but to a new audience. The Open Studies courses are open to the paying public so for this course no prior certification or accreditation was required for entry. To me this meant a new audience. Not high school students, not university students and not university staff; the course participants were something unknown.
For weeks I wrangled and worried with this thought. Who were they? What did they want? Would they know the rules of the class? I began to expand my questions. Why did they want to do this when there was no certificate at the end, nothing to declare that they were hoarders of a certain level of knowledge, nothing they could use to progress to further?
They were doing it because they were interested… And what better class than this? Wouldn’t this be any teachers ideal? A class that was instantly engaged and on board with the material? But, of course, as it was new and unknown my mind began to work. I began to wonder if I was up to it. What did the paying public want? The classic academic in tweed, the neo-academic nerd chic, a Horizon episode? What did they want me to be? What did they want the class to be? Would I be good enough?
This last question chased me, peeping at me between Powerpoint slides and nipping at me between pages. Would I be good enough?
The class was different. They were varied in every way possible: different vocations, different ages, different backgrounds.
And they were loud; they used their voices … to talk to me!
They asked questions… nonstop!
There was no fear, no boundary; I was theirs.
Analogy became my partner allowing us to traverse the discipline and knowledge backgrounds.
I smiled. I loved it – finally what I wanted – nonstop interaction, on your feet thinking, nonstop. In the moment – I was engaged.
The classes flew by, gone too quickly a cautious choice by me erring on the shorter course structure just in case it didn’t suit me. It turned out to be one of the best personal experiences I have had of teaching. I enjoyed every second and will miss those weekly night classes. I was immersed in my subject and the minds of the class. The initial feedback from the class has been great and very encouraging. On considering my practice as a teacher, it has reminded me that enjoyment is paramount to the experience, it is an immersive and mutual experience – for the learner to benefit the teacher must be as engaged in the subject as the class is, and just as engaged with the class and its desires and needs. Out of this I will take forward that letting go of self and becoming lost in the moment when barriers are broken and teacher and class are connected in a joint endeavour is essential to the class experience.