Saturday 5 October is World Teacher’s Day, when we celebrate the fantastic teachers that make a difference to the lives of students around the globe.
We are honoured to have some simply fantastic academic staff working for us, so to commemorate the day we had a chat with Danielle, one of the tutors for our Master of Education course. Danielle works part-time as a tutor for us, and in her ‘day job’ she is in another teaching role as a language teacher, helping international students prepare for starting a university course in the UK.
What is a typical day like for you?
My day starts quite early. I’m normally in the office (for my regular job) between half 7 and 8, and we have lessons starting as early as 8:30am. I spend most of the day teaching – normally 4-6 hours a day – and outside of that time I’ll be planning lessons, engaging in continuing professional development, collaborating with colleagues on projects or meeting to share ideas. I tend to be at work until 5pm or even later until 6 or 7pm.
Then when I get home it’s time for tutoring. The Q&A sessions tend to be around 7-8pm, and if I’m not doing that I’ll be engaging in the online discussion forums or answering questions by email. We have to reply to emails within 24 hours but I normally do it much quicker than that, as quickly as possible. On the last run of the module we also offered one-to-one sessions so that students could talk about the feedback they’d received on an assignment. I normally do this in the evening but sometimes at the weekend as well.
Outside of work, I see my family – my mum lives close by as do my nephews, so I normally see them at the weekend. In the evenings I go to the gym and sometimes meet my husband in town for dinner. We live in Liverpool so it’s a really vibrant city with a lot going on.
How did you get started working in teaching?
My first job was in IT – it involved a lot of testing and technical work, but the thing I enjoyed most was the training aspect because of the contact with people. I decided I’d rather teach something that I’m really passionate about – languages. I was a language student myself and it also enabled me to travel – in fact, I was able to live abroad for five years, in Spain teaching English.
I’ve been working in teaching now for more than 18 years – in fact, I got an award last week for 10 years in my full-time role. I can’t believe where the time has gone!
For Essex Online I teach postgraduate students on ‘Introduction to Educational Assessment’. The module is focused on strategies for teaching and how assessment impacts our teaching. I frequently find myself referring to examples from my own experiences when I’m tutoring, so my background in teaching is really beneficial.
How much interaction do you have with students?
It honestly depends on how much the students interact online themselves. Some people interact more than others – posting in the discussion forums, attending the Q&As – and those are the people you get to know more. Especially if they took part in the one-to-ones, I felt like I got to know them quite well and have some great chats with them.
However many of the students who study online are doing it so they can fit studying around work and other parts of their lives, so I can completely understand that sometimes they don’t have the time to engage as much as others.
What do you love most about being an Essex Online tutor?
I’ve had some really lovely feedback. The students tend to be older than the ones I teach during the day, so they are really appreciative of the time that I can give them – whether it’s giving detailed feedback, meeting with them one-to-one, having a call, answering an email. The students really appreciate the support you can give them.
Seeing students get brilliant results is also really fulfilling. You know it’s all down to their hard work but it’s rewarding, really rewarding.
Any favourite memories of working as a tutor?
I had one student who, in addition to doing the online course – which is already quite demanding – also had a house guest and young children including an 8-month-old baby. She did amazingly in the assignments. I wondered how she fit it all in!
One of the best things is when studying enables people to go on to bigger and better things. That’s what it’s all about really. The education course hasn’t been running long enough – our students are still in the middle of their courses – but I’ve experienced it in my day job and that’s definitely something I’m looking forward to for my online students.
What are the biggest benefits and challenges of teaching online vs face-to-face?
The online discussion forums give you that extra thinking time. When you’re in the classroom and students are asking questions, or equally if I’m asking students questions, you’ve got to respond immediately. But sometimes you give your best responses when you’ve had time to think it over. Some of the questions they raise are challenging, and you need to consider how to make reference to the literature, so having that extra time adds to a good quality discussion.
One of the things that I enjoy is having contact with people all over the world – from lots of different teaching contexts, different background educational experiences. It really enriches your teaching and learning experience when people share their diverse opinions and points of view. It does come with challenges, such as the time difference especially for the live Q&A sessions, but people still have plenty of opportunity to collaborate and share ideas throughout the course even if they struggle with the timing of the Q&As.
Any advice for our online students?
The more you put in online, the more you’ll get out!
I know it’s a challenge to fit everything in – but interact, engage online as much as you can. It’s not just for your own benefit, it’s also for the benefit you give to other people as well. We are really trying to encourage this online community where you can share experiences and talk about your different teaching contexts, and everybody can add something that’s interesting and useful to their fellow students.
It’s a very intense learning experience. There are ups and downs, but if you persevere through the highs and lows you will find that it’s worth it in the end.