In this post – the first in a series in which graduate students write about their experiences of teaching – John Markey discusses his passion for teaching and how, far more than just a CV-enhancing opportunity, it can have a positive impact on your own research, writing and presentational skills. John Markey is a PhD Candidate at the University of Glasgow studying the use of Sectarian Music in the West of Scotland under Professor Martin Cloonan. He also lectures in Cultural Studies and The Music Industries at the SAE Institute, Glasgow.
I love teaching. It’s about the only job I’ve had that I genuinely look forward to. I’ve had jobs that I’ve hated, some I’ve tolerated and others I’ve enjoyed, but I’ve never had a job that I actively look forward to. Apparently that’s sought after; I’m not surprised. Like most things teaching has its negatives, and I’ll discuss them later but it’s always best to deal with the positives first. Here’s why I love teaching.
It’s great to stand in front of adults, both young and old, and orchestrate critical conversation. There’s little to be done about the set up, there is an immediate power dynamic present when you stand in front of a class and if you’re that way inclined then you’ll find yourself slipping into the role with ease. I’ve always had a fondness for public speaking and this is simply a way to do it regularly without becoming a politician. That’s a last resort. For those who hate the idea of standing in front of a crowd and speaking with (at least a little) proficiency and gravitas then lecturing can sound like a nightmare but I can only say that it gets easier and more enjoyable every time, particularly if you are delivering lectures you are familiar with. Practice makes perfect. And this is true in another way; it instils a confidence. If I was writing this after lecturing my first class ever I wouldn’t be so brimming, but over time it boosts the confidence levels and this confidence carries into other avenues of my academic career. Presentations at conferences are an obvious example. It might sound a little sad, but after a particularly impressive class, one where you’ve been witty, informative and the conversation has been stellar; it’s hard to keep yourself from grinning.
So, apart from its grin-inducing qualities, what other reasons are there to love teaching? Well, as a PhD student it bleeds into everything I do. I am researching music that is political in nature, music that is all about identity construction and maintenance as well as being an active cultural site of performance, how can it not be to my academic benefit to lecture in Popular Music Politics and Cultural Studies? In writing classes it is necessary to familiarise oneself with a broad range of literature on the topic, it’s precisely in doing this research that you notice a quote, a journal article or something of that ilk that actually applies rather directly to something you’re working on. Of course familiarising yourself with as broad a range of literature as possible is necessary for every post-grad, but in designing classes you may uncover something that you may not have otherwise and this can be of immense benefit. It’s also amazing how often classes cross-pollinate. I was asked to prepare and deliver a lecture on Genre for the MLitt in Popular Music Studies at the University of Glasgow, it wasn’t hard to lift slides from my post-colonialism lecture on world music and apply them to this new class. My class on the role of the state in cultural production normally delivered at the SAE institute in Glasgow? That was very useful for a class on popular music censorship I was asked to give at Glasgow Uni. The more classes that one prepares and delivers, the more this cross-pollination of information will happen.
What else is so great about teaching? Well, it is difficult to mark so many assignments and not pick up on some frequent errors that occur across most classes. This makes it very easy not to make the same errors yourself. While it should be a given that a PhD student will have a higher standard of writing than those at undergraduate level, there are things that can slip anyone up, and seeing them regularly leaves an imprint in your head, a big alarm that goes off if you dare write anything that isn’t up to scratch. Recently I have begun acting as a dissertation supervisor for a post-grad student and that has really made me think long and hard about my own academic writing.
It’s not all fun and games though; there are the obvious downsides. It can take up a lot of time. No matter how many times I’ve delivered a class I still need to prepare it before hand, this can make a three hour lecture take five hours out of my day with prep time. It can also be immensely tiring; being absolutely switched on for the entire duration of a (normally long) class can really take it out of you and make returning to your own work afterwards difficult. Unruly students can make for tricky moments in the classroom but as with delivering a lecture, practice makes perfect. This is all valuable experience for a later lecturing career.
The responsibility that comes with teaching is one that carries across into other avenues of your life. You are directly responsible for the progression of students who are paying good money to study at your institution; that’s a lot of weight on the shoulders of a student teacher. But it’s necessary. If you’re going to progress in an academic career then this will be a part of your life so it’s good to get used to this now. It can be a bit daunting, but as I said, I love teaching.
If you or someone you know would like to write a post for the RMA Student Blog then we’d be happy to hear from you! Please get in touch with one of your student representatives.