I loved teaching – for me it was the best part of being a university lecturer. That's not "normal", though. For the majority of academics teaching is a chore, something they have to do in order to be able to pursue their research. And then there are those who get an even greater kick out of admin and the whole bureaucracy. I never understood that.
But for me the greatest fun – as well as the greatest sense of achievement – was to be derived from teaching. And so I always put a sizeable amount of my time into developing my teaching.
I had personally benefited from excellent teaching, not least by Prof Welte during my own studies (he had also been my PhD supervisor – see degrees
). I knew from my own learning experience that a combination of intense presentation of content coupled with even more intense learning-by-doing exercises and projects was something that could achieve a lot in conveying issues in linguistics or grammar teaching. Once it was me who was at the front being the teacher, it was my turn to give back what I'd learned about teaching and learning.
So once in the business I would put a lot of energy into preparation, devise a plethora of tailor-made exercises, constantly modifying and improving details.
I started teaching at Hamburg
University while still a student. Well, my first "job" at Uni was less about teaching proper but rather assisting groups of students prepare their presentations for a linguistics intro seminar in German linguistics. On the side I also started some language teaching.
Later I had my first full linguistics seminar teaching job (what was called a "Lehrauftrag"); i.e. I devised and delivered one course of ca. twelve weeks' duration, it was all in my own hands and my own responsibility. Obviously, I offered what I could do best: morphology and word-formation.
After two such jobs – and giving English lessons on the side, I moved to Great Britain
(see personal background
and education & degrees
). At my first job at the University of Bradford
, I had to do quite a different kind of teaching initially. Much of it was regular language classes, but also so-called content courses, in which my task was to enlighten beginner students of German about German culture, history and politics. That too was a challenge – but it also was a delightful experience.
After a while I teamed up with two French colleagues in kick-starting a new linguistics pathway within the Modern Languages Department. That was to be for all language students, so the common ground, English, would be used as the basis to work on. So I found myself teaching English linguistics (even though I was part of the German section of the department). I team-taught a general introduction module, and had sole responsibility for advanced modules in morphology. Soon I added a semantics module too. It was a cool development, as I had such a degree of freedom in developing my own structure, teaching, exercises and exams. It was a challenge I happily took on … with success. The greatest element of this was seeing a good proportion of the students doing well in my subjects!
Another interesting thing I did at Bradford was not strictly teaching but playing roles in simulated conferences for interpreter training (Bradford used to be a prime centre for translator and interpreter training.) For that purpose some colleagues and I were given briefings on specific topics that the simulated conference were to cover, then we had a week to prepare, like the students. In the conferences we would assume various roles and had to wax lyrically about whatever the topic was while the students had to interpret. Some of the topics were a real challenge for "delegates" and interpreters alike, esp. when it came to technical and legal topics. But it was a challenge that gave me a lot of buzz. I got better and better at it and greatly enjoyed it.
When my contract at Bradford
was over, I undertook a research project at the University of Freiburg, in south-west Germany
– and that also involved teaching a related linguistics seminar. I was able to combine my past experience gained in Hamburg
, with the more recent experiences gained in England. That was cool too.
After a break in teaching and just doing research I was happy when I got another job in Great Britain
, this time at Nottingham University, where I could again get back to teaching. I was there for only 18 months, but I regard them as the most successful phase in my teaching career. In particular in linguistics. I also had to provide language and translating classes, but those were more regulated and left little leeway for personal input into their development. The linguistics, on the other hand, was a superb challenge. I developed some modules from scratch, for others I could fall back on stuff I'd done in the past. I taught my familiar morphology, both basic and advanced, but also phonetics and phonology. Moreover I augmented the advanced semantics with a good dose of pragmatics. I had some really good students who were a delight to teach. In turn they made me work harder to give them as much as possible.
The most exhilarating challenge at Nottingham, however, was a task that was simply dropped on my feet and which I nearly refused to do. My Head of Department suddenly wanted me to develop an Introduction to Interpreting module. At first I thought I couldn't possibly agree to do this – as I had never done it before, nor had I ever received any training in it myself. But my partner (now wife), who had been trained as an interpreter, talked me into giving it a shot. And I'm so glad I did. To start with I had some stock teaching materials to fall back on, including audio tapes … so I had to use a language lab (which up to then I had rather had a distinct dislike for). But I also developed more and more material of my own. I had a fantastic bunch of students – and that in turn encouraged me to put even more energy into this one module. With the exception of one poor lad who just lacked the talent for it, they all impressed me. And I thank them for one of the greatest teaching experiences I've ever had. They mostly raked in pretty impressive marks in the exam at the end too.
But it wasn't all just fun. Some classes work better than others, and in particular some of the very repetitive language teaching – using set teaching material that I could hardly deviate from – was less than stimulating.
There were also real groan-inducing chores – especially the load of administrative responsibilities I was given (including that of "exams officer"). That cost a lot of time and nerves. I rose to the challenge but I would be lying if I said I truly enjoyed admin. The challenge, yes, but not the actual tasks. They're a nuisance and I don't get it how some people can get off on admin. I always felt it stood in the way of what was really important, and that for me meant not just research
but esp. teaching. But in a system where management rules, caring for the students comes at the bottom of the list of priorities. I hated that.
Marking lots of papers was often a strain too, but it was just part and parcel of the teaching, so no complaints there. Naturally, the really good results always felt satisfying – but I admit that some of the really, really bad ones also provided for some involuntary entertainment value.
Overall, however, if I had to pick one thing that I miss most about academia, I'd say it's the teaching side.