The principles underpinning three decades of teaching
As an inaugural recipient of a DVC(A) Merit List Award for Teaching and Learning Excellence, Senior Lecturer Linguistics, Dr Christo Moskovsky, shares his approach to education and what makes a great teacher.
Students are our core business. With today’s focus on research publications and grants, it is easy to forget that. However, universities are, in my view, first and foremost an educational institution. Our primary role as academics is to teach our students and to provide them with knowledge and skills of the highest possible standard. This is not to say that research should be neglected or abandoned. Indeed, only by being an active researcher in our field can we ensure that what we offer our students is cutting-edge state-of-the-art scholarship.
My approach to teaching is quite straightforward. I’ve worked as an educator for 35 years already, the last 20 odd of them at the University of Newcastle. Decades of teaching experience have enabled me to develop a number of practical principles which seem to work quite well and to produce decent outcomes:
Treat your students fairly.
Treat students with respect and give them the benefit of the doubt; recognise their hard work and reward it appropriately.
Be as open and transparent with them as possible about the course content, about the course requirements, about the assessment, etc.
Be as accessible to your students as humanly possible; never decline to meet with them and help them with their studies; never fail to respond to a student inquiry, regardless of how reasonable or otherwise you may think the inquiry is; and make sure to do it as soon as possible—ideally immediately.
Maximize learning opportunities for your students. Remember that assignments/exams are little more than another learning opportunity, not as a form of punishment.
Don’t forget that students are very perceptive – they invariably recognise when/if the teacher cares deeply and genuinely for them, and when they do they return the favour in spades. Few experiences are as rewarding and as uplifting.
The individual's capacity to learn is practically unlimited. At a more “philosophical” level, my teaching is underpinned by my conviction that education plays a critically important role in people’s lives. Education can make an immense difference and can have profound positive consequences for everyone. Recent technological advances in medical research have demonstrated that as a result of learning neural structures and neural pathways in the brain can grow and strengthen almost infinitely. However, the extent to which cognitive growth will take place crucially depends on the availability of favourable conditions for learning. As we’ve known for over a century already (indeed, since Vygotsky), among them formal education is undeniably the most important one—without formal education our ‘higher mental functions’ (in Vygotsky’s terms) may never evolve to their full potential.
My ultimate mission as a teacher is to create the conditions which will enable each of my students to realise their cognitive potential to the maximum.
Christo completed a five-year undergraduate degree in English Philology at Sofia University in 1985. The program covered a wide range of studies, such as English and American literature, linguistics, translation and interpreting, and language teaching methodology. He did a research Masters in Linguistics at the University in 1988/89 which yielded a thesis on issues of valency theory. Christo came to the University of Newcastle in 1992 as a full scholarship student to do a PhD in Linguistics and went on to be offered a lectureship in Linguistics in late-1998. Since then his efforts have mostly focused on the development and delivery of a world-class program in Applied Linguistics. Christo convened the University of Newcastle’s Master of Applied Linguistics program for most of its 20 years of existence. He has trained, almost invariably as the principal supervisor, a substantial cohort of domestic and international students in Applied Linguistics. Christo has authored and co-authored a number of influential publications in this field of study, including some which have appeared in top journals like TESOL Quarterly and Language Learning.