Richard Milne shares his thoughts on what makes a good teacher.
Dr Richard Milne on the joys of teaching.
“If you’re a researcher you might discover one or two important things in your lifetime. As a teacher I have the opportunity to teach, inspire and help thousands of young people, some of whom could go on to be research leaders. I think to take young people and help them to become the best that they can be, I think that’s a great calling and it should not be underestimated how important it is. It’s exciting, all these young faces starting their journey through university, and also a new stage on their journey through life. But I, especially as a first year teacher, think it’s a real honour to be there towards the start of their university careers and have a chance to inspire and influence them and make them better at what they do and what they’re going to do.”
“He knows how to capture students’ attention, he knows how to approach them, knows how to make things seem amazing, and make you wonder how can I actually contribute to something like this. So I think that it is really essential that there are teachers like Richard.”
“To be a good teacher you’ve got to want to be there. Second things is you’ve got to put yourselves in the minds of your audience. It’s no good saying “This is what I want to say, this is the information I want to get across.” That’s only the starting point. You’ve got to say, “Okay, but is that information going to be received.” You can’t be putting up a slide with a hundred numbers or two hundred words on it and expecting everybody to absorb that information. It’s not going to happen. You’ve got to think about what is happening, not at your point of delivery, but at the point of reception in the minds of every person who is in that room.”
“I think often you can feel quite detached from the lecturer because in terms of actual physical space, and the fact that you only see them three times a week or whatever. I think it’s so important to make a connection with the people in front of you, even if it is only for an hour. Or however many times you do it a week. And I think Richard’s really good at that, just being a friendly person to listen to. He had animations, videos, music… it was just, like people clap at the end of almost every lecture. They just, it was so obvious everyone thoroughly enjoyed it, and they were laughing and everyone just is inspired by what he does.”
“I’m a great believe of division of labour. I don’t mind that…if somebody is bringing in millions of pounds of grant money then that person is a very important part of the University. But people who are shouldering huge teaching loads should be equally respected, including by those research focused people, because, without us shouldering the teaching load, they wouldn’t have the time to write all the research grants that are bringing in all that money. So, in any organisation you have a degree of division of labour and as long as you’re working towards one or both of those goals you’re contributing to the greater good of the University.
“My own interests are evolutionary plant biology. But I do make the point that a lot of the greatest crises in the world today – climate change, starvation, soil degradation – a lot of those, if you really want to save human lives, plant science is the way to go.”
“When I came in the University, I had no interest, none whatsoever, in plant science. Just because plant science is considered inferior as far as high school is concerned. And then you come here and you see this person who is so enthusiastic and I think that’s the purpose of having a good lecturer. It’s not so much about information, it’s about passing his passion onto you. It’s not going to grab onto all the people, but you can understand why someone would be so interested about this topic and you might find yourself that that’s what you want to do eventually.”
“Oh, I think it’s wonderful that the Teaching Awards exist. I think it was a great move by the University and the student body to put those in and I think it did contribute towards a culture change. Actually, in my view, Edinburgh University has been, its possibly been ahead of the curve because I was given my position as a lecturer on the basis of my ability to teach, far more than my ability to research and I don’t think that’s a particularly common thing across British universities. Because for some people, the opportunity to teach young people, you know, is just the best thing in the world, as it was for me, and once I’d started doing that I knew it was what I wanted to do. So try it out. See if it’s what you were born to do.”