Postgraduate Language Teaching Training

Research Postgraduates at the School of Classics often take part in the teaching of Greek and Latin at sub-honours level, but aside from the University provision of (non-subject specific) teaching training and the advice given them by the relevant module coordinator, they weren’t offered any further support – until 2015, when Emma Buckley and I came up with a training scheme to help them out, which focuses specifically on the teaching of classical languages. Now running for the second year, the training is based on our personal experiences (especially my own PG training at Durham) but geared towards the demands of undergraduate teaching in Classics at St Andrews. It consolidates the participants’ knowledge of ancient languages; acquaints them with a variety of teaching styles, methods, and approaches; and helps them become competent and confident language tutors.

So who is it for and how does it work? The scheme is open to all Classics Research Postgraduates who are interested in teaching languages at St Andrews. We particularly encourage first-year students to participate – but if you are further on in your study and haven’t taken part in it yet, you are very welcome too! You will need your supervisor’s permission as well as a very good level of either Greek or Latin – or both.

The training lasts a full calendar year and there are three stages to it: observation, workshop / preparation, and practice:

During the observation stage (in semester 2 of a given academic year), participants sit in a variety of classes in first and second level modules of the language of their choice, and experience as many different settings and teaching styles as possible. There are also informal meetings for the whole group to discuss teaching techniques, dealing with problems, etc.

“Observing grammar and literature classes provided me with practical knowledge on how to engage constructively students attending this type of class. Most valuable to me was to learn how to balance the time devoted to explaining grammar rules with that used to illustrate the literary background of a text. […] The Postgraduate Language Teaching Training has allowed me to acquire valuable skills and to include in my CV a training specific for the teaching of classical languages.”

(Manlio Fossati, 4th year PhD)

The second stage begins with a workshop after semester ends, in which members of staff offer short presentations on language teaching topics and discuss them with the participating postgraduates. They are then expected to lead a mock class on which they receive both general and personalised feedback. Postgraduates who took part in the scheme in previous years are also invited to attend, and share their own experiences with their colleagues.

“The workshop over two days provided lots of helpful advice and tips from staff members, and I greatly enjoyed giving a mock class – I was a bit nervous about presenting to incredibly experienced lecturers pretending to be students, but the feedback I received was really valuable and has helped me with all the teaching I have done, not just language teaching.”

(Matthew Payne, 2nd year PhD)

The second stage also involves a summer of preparation during which the participants are encouraged to reflect on the observation and workshop as well as prepare set texts ahead of the third stage (in semester 1 of the following academic year), in which they undertake the teaching of a support or reading class in either Greek or Latin. This is a unique opportunity to put into practice what they have learnt, with constant support from myself and the module coordinators. Apart from meeting them every week to check on their progress, I also observe them twice in the course of the semester, and give them feedback on their performance. At the end of the semester their students fill in a questionnaire and they too have a chance to say what they thought of the experience. We discuss these results in a final meeting in December which marks the end of the training scheme – but not the end of their language teaching, which is an essential part of academic life.

“My students were very engaged and enthusiastic about the material that we looked at in class, which was great. I particularly enjoyed the smaller class size of the support class as it meant that participation from the whole group was high. This really helped with gauging the students’ understanding of the material.”

(Ellen MacDougall, 3rd year PhD)

If you are a Classics Postgraduate and would like to take part in the Language Teaching Training in 2017, contact me via email (nm66) to register your interest.

Dr Nikoletta Manioti, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow
S17, School of Classics, University of St Andrews

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