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©2018 by Merle van den Akker

Learning to Teach


Teaching. I always thought it would take me decades to ever reach the goal of professor. Now, it might still take me decades to officially become a professor, but I have already got some teaching experience under my belt, which I am going to share with you in this article.

Training I am sure the mandatory training sessions for teaching in higher education were meant well, but they can hardly prepare you for the “real deal.” In the training we were sat together, all like-minded PhD students, with little to no experience actually teaching. We were being taught about the experiences of people who had already taught, within the Warwick Business School specifically, and what to watch out for. This was a total of four days. If only they had taught me about how to teach coding R to absolute novices….


Preparation So the training wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. This often happens when theory has to be put into practice. As one realises theory cannot be put into practice and practice is very different from theory.

A couple of days before you have to teach, it is probably for the best if you make a list of all the materials you have to go through. And actually go through them. For the course in Business Statistics this means watching the same video lectures as the students and looking through their exercises to see if I understand them well enough to explain them. If I don’t at first glance, I will have to go through them myself. Luckily, the day before teaching, we get the answer sheet, so we are not completely lost.

For my other course: Markets, Marketing and Strategy, I mainly have to do applied theory. This involves reading business case studies which will be discussed in the seminars I teach. I am able to do this quite quickly: skim the lecture, read the case studies and superficially alter the PowerPoint. A very straight forward process.

Other preparation you have to keep in mind is knowing which hours and days you are teaching, and where you are teaching it. Sometimes it does happen you have 5 minutes to not just change rooms between seminars, but buildings. It can also be that the room you have been booked into for teaching is too small for the number of students attending. Sometimes you just have to make do, to the best of your own abilities. Some stuff happens spontaneously. Roll with the punches. Prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.


Teaching Regardless of how prepared I felt, on my first day of teaching I went. Four hours back to back on how to do Business Statistics in R for MSc students. Now please keep in mind, I am not exactly a prodigy in R. I dread it. Still. I have yet to find joy in coding, or data science in general. Yet, I am aware that it is necessary for me to have these skills. So how did I end up teaching a module I dread? My supervisor enrolled me as a teacher. There you go. So far, I have taught two days of this.

The first day was pretty much telling people how to install R and RStudio (more of a struggle than you think…), how to open the files correctly and how to do the sheer basics. I left those four hours feeling pretty good about myself. Questions had been easy, problems had been quickly resolved.

The second day was like a bucket of cold water. A right hook you did not see coming. Questions got a lot harder. Sure, there were still some systematic issues like things not running which can be resolved by a “have you tried turning it off and on again,” approach, but the majority wasn’t. Suddenly I was surrounded by coding commands I had never used myself, had never seen, and hope to never see again. It is then that the often feared “imposter syndrome” kicks in: they are going to see right through me. They are going to figure out I know nothing. They’ll know I am not equipped to do this…

Teaching the marketing module, I felt a lot more comfortable. Not only was I teaching first year undergraduates rather than MSc students, I also know the theory quite well. But unfortunately I ran into other issues: lack of resources.

I teach four marketing seminars on Monday. In seminar one the room was barely big enough to hold all students and the amount of chairs needed wouldn’t even have fitted. Luckily, this “cosiness” led to a comfortable and relaxed vibe which helped for having open discussions about the case study. The second seminar was in a room that looked more like a lecture theatre. As a result, all students did fit, but discussion between almost 50 (!!) students felt a bit hampered. The third seminar was cosy again (read: people sat on tables/the floor) and the fourth seminar was in a smaller lecture theatre, in which I thought the discussion was going to be hampered again, but it turned out fine. Stuff like this you can hardly prepare for, unless you already know the rooms by heart. It happens. Roll with the punches. Bounce back from your mistakes. Another week, another opportunity to do better.


So what’s next? As this article goes up, week 3 of the first term of the academic year will have ended. I will teach marketing until week 9, and business statistics until week 10. I sincerely hope I can maintain my level of “chill” with the marketing course. I also sincerely hope that continuously teaching R will make me better at R, or at least good enough to fake my way through the lessons. I might be an imposter. But I’ll be a damn good one at that!


I’m sure I will continue to update you, my dear reader, on the many perils I will face as an aspiring-professor. But for now, I will have to mentally prepare to watch more video-lectures about R. And I am planning to convert to Buddhism to get me through another great teaching experience: marking and grading assignments. More on that later.


If you have any tips for me, or for the poor students being taught by me, let me know! The only tip I can give so far is: try not to panic. In the words of my darling supervisor who enrolled me as a teacher on his R course: "You are going to be fine, it will all be okay."