Post-Graduate Teaching – Good for the Soul?

Karen O’Donnell

I came into my PhD study as a qualified secondary school teacher with a good few years’ experience of teaching Religious Studies, Philosophy, and Ethics to children of varying levels of inclination and ability. In some ways this has been both a blessing and curse when it came to teaching in Higher Education. A blessing in that I knew how to manage a small group of students and I knew that I could teach. I will never forget the fear I faced the very first time I stood in front of a group of year 9s to teach ten minutes on the Holocaust with no idea whether what would come out of my mouth would be any good or not!
But it hasn’t necessarily been an easy transition. boylisteningtheatreTeaching small groups of students for just a few weeks at a time is hard. Learning names is difficult in a short space of time and the kind of control I had in a secondary school classroom would be inappropriate in the university setting. Post-graduate teaching itself is not without its problem. Students are paying a considerable sum of money for their degree experience – can we justify allowing post-grads to teach when students are paying for ‘professionals’? Post-graduate students are often not unionised and without representation in larger discussions of teaching in the University. These bigger questions remain part of the reconstruction of the University in the 21st century.

I have to conclude, though, that teaching alongside studying for a PhD is an invaluable experience and one I would recommend for all PhD students.

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