The Teaching I Do

Not many people know this, but I spent my first four years of full-time employment, after my first degree, working as a training administrator in the City of London, first for a merchant bank and then for a law firm. (Neither is still in business. I am not taking that personally.) My work involved conducting training needs analyses (research!), commissioning and evaluating training (more research!), and designing and running training courses. I went on a ‘train the trainer’ course to learn to structure and present a course; I remember it was held in a room at The Guardian newspaper office, which was in Farringdon Road at the time. And then I put my learning into practice, over and over again.

After a while, when I had paid off my post-university overdraft and done enough voluntary work to gain experience, I left the City and became a residential social worker. I didn’t think I would use my training skills again. Fast forward a dozen or so years to 2003 by which time I am a researcher with an MSc in Social Research Methods and a PhD underway, and a client asks if I can train her staff in evaluation research. I say ‘yes’ and the whole thing snowballs from there.

Now I teach short courses in research methods and ethics worldwide, mostly to postgraduate researchers and early career staff at universities, as well as open courses via organisations such as the National Centre for Research Methods and Methods@Manchester. Of course, this has all been online for the last couple of years, and some was online long before that, but I now have in-person bookings for 2022–23 which I very much hope can go ahead. My most popular courses are on creative research methods (1–4 days), creative and productive academic writing (1–4 days), radical research ethics (1 day), and documents as data (1 day). Each of these courses is highly interactive, with short presentations, discussions, practical exercises and lots of time for questions. I also offer bespoke training for clients who want specific courses for their students and/or staff.

I enjoy this kind of teaching very much, but I can’t do it all the time because it is quite demanding, and I also like doing research and keynote speeches and writing books. So I have taken the decision to restrict my teaching to 40 days per year. One-fifth of these days are taken up by the Methods@Manchester summer school, where I teach two four-day courses, one on creative and productive academic writing and – this year for the first time – one on qualitative research for quantitative researchers. Most of the rest are taken up by universities that book me each year for a regular day or two. This academic year is almost fully booked, and the next academic year is booking up fast.

One of the things I love most about teaching is, paradoxically, how much I learn from my students. This year alone I have learned to use the term ‘geopolitical North/South’ rather than ‘global North/South’, and about Effin Birds (content warning: many many swears) which provided an excellent birthday present for a good friend with a robust sense of humour. Students bring all sorts of useful knowledge to my courses and share it for everyone’s benefit. They give me lovely compliments about my teaching (and from time to time some helpful constructive criticism) but they forget to notice or mention how much they themselves contribute to the course, and how very valuable that is.

I think I am so lucky to be able to teach in this way. I hope I will be able to travel for work again soon – in January 2020 I was planning teaching trips to South Africa and Aus/NZ – but I know just how lucky I am to have been able to continue with this most rewarding part of my work throughout the pandemic. If you have been on one of my courses, remember: everyone is creative!

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