Hello? Confessions of a university lecturer
brown wooden chairs inside room
Photo by Wilhelm Gunkel on Unsplash

Hello? Confessions of a university lecturer

Kate Reilly James January 15, 2022

I am paid to teach a life skill, to help students get a job and, hopefully, enjoy a rewarding career. I’m also human.

I chose education after a thrilling career in journalism that saw me travel the world, interview celebs and get plenty of free meals, drinks and gig tickets. It was great while it lasted however, when it came to ticking the ‘fulfilling’ box, I felt something was lacking. I’d mentored a lot of junior writers and enjoyed the experience so, after heading back to school myself, university beckoned.

University is a truly awesome experience for both students and staff. I have met so many different characters, some challenging, others incredibly insightful and inspiring. All have made an impression one way or another.

Most recently we (the teaching staff) have noticed something different in our first year students. They’re all VERY quiet.

Of course, the impact of the pandemic and home learning has affected us all. But the art of speech is vital and university is where you can find (or rediscover) your voice.

Speaking up

I teach journalism, digital media and law. If my students make the expected transition from graduation into industry, they will be out in the field chasing down stories and interviewing people in all kinds of situations within days. Yet the majority of my 2020/21 students struggle to say hello each morning.

Whether you are studying medicine, languages, history, sociology, or something else entirely, being able to say hello or good morning is an important skill; regardless of your chosen discipline.

The perfect example of this ‘eerie’ quiet happened in October 2020.

My dad died from Covid. I missed two teaching days and, on returning to the lecture hall, I told my students what had happened and why I had been off work. No one said a thing. Not a ‘Sorry for your loss’ or even an ‘Are you okay?’ Zip. Nada. Tumbleweeds blew past for a good minute or so before I turned and began writing on the white board, genuinely baffled by the lack of response.

Maybe they don’t think it’s any of their business and they would rather I just got on with the public affairs chapter we missed? But I wish they’d responded in some way, any way. I encourage you to forge healthy relationships with your lecturing and support staff, just like you do with your housemates and classmates.

For those who cringe at the mere thought of having to hear their own voices out loud, here are some tips.

Say hello

That’s literally it. Be the student who says hello as you arrive at each lecture or workshop. We notice. It’s good, it’s healthy and it’s kind. If you’re new to saying hello, get some practice in the mirror. Get comfortable with your tone and pitch, then put it into practice. If you are worried classmates will judge you – urgh, it’s the ‘hello’ person…it’s hardly a slur, right?

Be real

If you have stuff going on that is affecting your ability to study, tell me. If you’re real, honest and authentic, you will get that back. If I’m having a bad day because someone stood on my new Adidas Superstar in the corridor and left a mark, I’m going to tell you about it. If you’re going through some stuff and you need to chat about it, it’s a two-way thing. Embrace it.

Live a little

Listen – uni is meant to be the best years of your life. I am fully expecting you to live a little. Yep, I know when you’re hungover, tired, hungry and simply not in the right frame of mind to learn. I applaud you for dragging yourself out of bed to make it to the session, but tell us if you’re in bits. Live it up but get the grades.

Don’t be a robot

I fully accept that we live in a digital age. However, email, text and DMs are no replacement for speech. Yes, you’ll be encouraged to email assignments and receive feedback by email. You’ll likely enter into many a Whatsapp group about nights out and course-related stuff. But it’s equally important that you use your voice.

Set a routine and call home once a week and speak to a relative. Got a mate at another uni? Set up a FaceTime every now and then to say hi and check in. If you’ve got stuff going on that you want to talk about, trust your lecturer to help.

I appreciate that not all lecturers and support staff will strike you as the most approachable, so choosing the right one takes time. But we are here. We will listen and we appreciate a hello more than you can imagine.

Have something to tell us about this article?
Let us know
Kate is a Journalism and creative writing lecturer and sports journalist. From the BBC red carpet to Premier League PR via creative copy for Greggs, she is a modern April O’Neil with a passion for all things Comic Con.