Principles of Professional Teachers

EAIT Tutor Training Workshop

I attended 4 hours Tutor Training Workshop on Friday, 22 July 2016. This workshop was conducted by The Faculty of Engineering, Architecture, and Information Technology (EAIT), The University of Queensland (UQ), Australia. It was fun and interactive morning. As a new tutor in UQ, this is a compulsory training I need to attend. Yes, I will be a tutor for data mining course in semester 2, 2016. There were several important and valuable knowledge and skills that I learned from this workshop. I wish I got this kind of training before I started my job as lecturer several years ago. Better late than never. I believe it is important for me to write down most important principles of professional teachers so that I can reflect to this note again in the future. Here we go!

1. Respect for People

When I was a master student at KAUST, I remember my supervisor (Prof. Mikhail Moshkov) often began replied my email with apologise if he responded more than one day.  He is a very nice senior professor. Every weekly discussion with him was a very joyful moment. We used to begin with coffee / milk tea with chocolate / candy – usually from Russia.

He treated people so well even for just a master student like me back then. Replying email and having time for student is just about fulfilling obligation. But, responding email as soon as possible and treating student well is what we call respect!

During the tutor workshop and compulsory training, I learned that we need to respect every person. It simply means we need to treat students, other staff and members of the community equitably and with respect.

A great example was recorded in the Quran. Muhammad SAW was preaching Islam to Quraish leaders in Mecca. Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktum RA came and asked Rasulullah about Islam. However, Rasulullah SAW frowned and turned away from him. Allah then revealed first sixteen verses of surah ‘Abasa with respect to this incident. After that, Rasulullah SAW did not cease to fulfill his needs and take him into his council whenever he approached. This teaches us that we need to respect people who have good intention to study regardless his status or condition.

2. Constructive Feedback for Learning

When providing feedback for my works (report, paper, slide, etc.), my PhD supervisor (Prof. Xue Li) often begins with positive comments. Even it is just one or two sentence(s). After that, he fires me with bunch of problems of my works and suggestion for improvements.

During the workshop, I learned that other people’s reaction can impact on our motivation to persist or disengage. Yes, feedback is critical in learning process. We respond to other people’s reaction to guide our learning.

My colleague told me that she will never cook again. The reason is her husband gave harsh comment for her first meals after getting married. Very funny and scary at the same time, but that’s real. Good reminder for all husbands. A muslim can’t lie except for three reasons. One of them is providing positive feedback for his wife’s meals. It has wide implication.

According to the workshop, a good way to give feedback is by addressing the work, not the person. We need to begin positively and use encouraging expression, as my supervisor usually do. It’s kind of anaesthetic before painful treatment. A great feedback should also offer explicit suggestion for improvement, not just general comments.

3. Culturally Inclusive Classroom

It was an interesting discussion during the workshop. How if in tutorial session, a Chinese student ask the tutor (who speaks Chinese) a question in Chinese? It is OK for the tutor to reply in Chinese?

Some participants think that it is not acceptable. The reason is official language for teaching in UQ is English. Other said that’s not a problem. They argued that the main purpose of tutorial is student understand the material. So, tutor can do anything, including speak in their own language in class.

The correct answer is tutor should deliver the class in English. First reason is by rule English is official language for teaching. Another important reason is using other language than English may possibly exclude other students who don’t understand their language. This is very uncomfortable and can discourage engagement and motivation.

So, in case a student asks question during tutorial in their native language other than English, the tutor should encourage him/her to speak in English. Other students may get benefit from their Q&A discussion. Using jargon or Ozzie slang should also be avoided. Australia has a lot of slang words, huh!

Students in widely-recognised institution like UQ have very diverse cultural background and learning styles. Students won’t necessarily learn the way the tutor do in the past. A good tutor will provide different variety of learning experiences (discussion, practical, reading, taking notes, etc.) as needed.

4. Empathise with Student

A student may experience hard time in life during the semester that we may not know. Some lose their close family member, some suddenly become homeless, some have serious illness, etc. It’s nice to be nice and patient with others.

A good tutor is aware with the student. For example, a student was very enthusiast at the first few tutorial sessions. He came early, asked very good question, actively participated in the discussion, and submitted great work for assignment.

However, he was then coming late, not attending the tutorial at all, or even missing project deadline. Whenever possible, a tutor can contact the student, ask his condition, and provide necessary help. Fortunately, UQ has variety of professional students services and helps on campus.

Ok, I think that’s all four main principles of professional teacher that I can wrap up from tutor training workshop. There are a lot more principles. If you read this post and think I miss some important points that should be mentioned, please feel free to comment. I’d love to hear what is other good principles from your perspective!

Brisbane, 29 July 2016

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