New to Teaching in UK Universities

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Whether you are an experienced teacher, but new to teaching in the UK, or just teaching for the first-time, the key to success is to have an open mind and not assume that students at UK universities will be:

  • The same as students you have taught already
  • An exact copy of you when you were a student

There is no such thing as a typical UK university even within the four UK countries there is a range of teaching styles, procedures, habits and traditions. Some university courses will attract a great percentage of UK educated students; many will not. There aren’t simple answers to questions like:

  • what is a typical UK undergraduate?
  • will they all work hard?
  • what will they expect from you?

Ideally, you will receive a good induction to your department and the university as a whole. In practice, universities are large and complex organisations who tend to assume knowledge, so you may not be given all the information you may require immediately. Be proactive and ask questions: it’s not rude or disrespectful. The sooner you get those answers, the sooner you’ll settle in.

10 Top Tips

Moving to a new country to work is challenging and teaching for the first time can make it more so. Assume nothing and then if you find there are many similarities between your previous experience as a teacher, and indeed as a student, you will be pleasantly surprised. However, the following will help you make the transition more effectively:

  • Ask about the profile of your students. For example, ask your department for a general overview of the students’ previous educational background and required qualifications and experience for the course.
  •  Look at the induction materials sent to students by the university and your department.
  • Observe some teaching as soon as possible; don’t wait to be asked. The quickest way to understand those hidden expectations (the ‘hidden’ curriculum), is to attend a range of teaching including lectures, seminars and tutorials. Note down questions and what surprised you and then:
  • Ask the students if what you experienced was typical and also what their expectations are.
  • Find someone like you who perhaps is also fairly new to teaching in the UK: ask them questions based on your observations. They will have been through similar experiences and could be useful ‘buddies’ or mentors.
  • Have your own expectations and standards, but ensure that they are compatible with the prevailing educational culture.
  • Ideally, students will be able to work on their own without having to rely on you all the time. Sometimes they expect to be ‘spoon-fed’. What do your new colleagues and students have to say about this? What are your expectations?
  • English may not be a students’ first language. If it isn’t yours either, ensure all teaching and tutorials are conducted in English, unless the university has a clearly stated policy which states otherwise.
  • Communication form students can be very informal: you may get an email starting’ Hi Prof’. This doesn’t necessarily imply disrespect.
  • Check out the support available to students. The names can vary, but some key terms are: Disability Services, Learning Support, Students’ Union, Counselling, Well-Being, Chaplaincy, Diversity and Student Services 

And finally, once you have started teaching, sit down with a colleague or mentor on a regular basis and talk over how things are going. And remember: there is no such thing as a stupid question.

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