In terms of uni life, as a student I did a year at Durham, 3 years at UCL, 3 years at Cranfield and two years part time at Derby. Throughout that time I was blessed with mostly approachable and helpful lecturers. If you had a question, and they had time, they would help you. There were only the rare one or two that were standoffish without time for you, or stiff and starchy, office bound.
The best ones were the most human. They were just able to relate to you because they seemed to understand you because they saw themselves the same as you. They seemed to have empathy and just wanted to help.
They weren’t necessarily the best dressed. They didn’t necessarily have the best set of teeth or hairstyle.
They were just helpful.
They might have had good humour but weren’t necessarily stand up comedians.
They didn’t always have amazing PowerPoint slides or videos but they often made you stop and think.
They were not ego tripping superstars, but part of your journey: strangers on the road of life that had things to say and make you pause for thought in order to develop yours.
Sometimes they wore sandals with socks. Sometimes a trendy leather jacket. Sometimes they had done their research in remote, far away almost other planet places that left you with wide mouthed wonder, thinking “where is that?!”
They rarely told you the answers, but rather said something that caused you to go away and think or do something yourself.
They sometimes entered into richly rewarding yet ephemeral email conversations. They sometimes met you in the uni cafeteria for an essay feedback chat.
And they always left you with more to do.
All in all my experiences left me mostly with warm, enjoyable memories.
A year or so ago I walked past a UCL lecturer who co edited the Oxford Classical Dictionary. I think I was in the London Underground. It took me a moment to place him mentally. I shouted hello after him and he turned and shouted a cheery, smiley hello back, as if he was possibly used to that from students past and present. It made me smile. I don’t think he remembered me.
I remembered his uni office – his classroom really. Floor to ceiling books on every wall. A table for about 10 students in the middle, in front of his desk. I did a year one class with him on History of the Mediterranean World I think it was called, covering 800-500 BC. It surprised me that he gave us a list of corrections on the front of essay feedback sheets, including grammatical errors. Apart from that we’d get roughly a paragraph of qualitative feedback. I was always quite in awe of him with his prestigious Oxford background and Dictionary writing fame. And one day he stopped in his tracks and told me, when I was having a moment of low confidence, “I think highly of your work”. I was quite taken aback, but it was a turning point. Just those few words gave me such a boost. I put in more effort and was determined to do even better after that. I left glowing.
On the other hand, moments of demoralisation induced by other lecturers later on included being informed by a quick written scrawl, without any further comment, “not very insightful”. When I went to find out more I didn’t even get eye contact, just a few mumbled words and dismissively ignored while the lecturer carried on working at their computer. I realised I wasn’t going to learn much on that occasion, which therefore felt like a waste of time having gone to the trouble in the first place.
So what I guess I’ve learned and what I’d like to be in my lecturer mission statement is the following:
1. Be approachable
2. Be human
3. Be warm and friendly if circumstances allow
4. Give help
5. Make students think
6. Give them something to do
7. Meet in cafes if possible, not just the office
8. Be encouraging
9. Build confidence
10. Be supportive