Dr Paula Clarke

Dr Paula Clarke is an Associate Professor in Childhood and Inclusive Education within the School of Education. Her current research interests are in the development, implementation and evaluation of educational interventions. Paula teaches modules that form part of the MA Special Education Needs, MA Childhood Studies, PGCE and the MA Teaching courses.

I teach at all levels, and there are several differences between undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. At undergraduate level, the first couple of years in particular are very structured and supported; there’s a lot of time-tabled activities to help people get used to study at university.

At Masters level it’s quite different because in most cases the student will have done an undergraduate programme fairly recently or been in work. The expectations and the starting points are different; we teach in smaller groups and students tend to come with a really diverse ranges of experiences. From the word go it’s a more individual and a more independent learning style. 

Because Masters students are only here for one year, we work with them closely to quickly find out what their interests are. We make sure that their time with us meets their expectations and their needs in their broader career aspirations. The critical study is something that is informed by and built around student’s own interests. Quite early on students will come to us with their emerging ideas about what they want to do. We work with them, helping them to think and develop ideas into a viable piece of work that can be done in a relatively short space of time, fairly independently. We guide them through it and point them in the direction of things to be thinking about. We are looking for publishable quality work at the end of it and also looking for future academics and often it’s a nice stepping stone into further postgraduate study. 

On the  Masters courses I teach, many students are already teachers. So during the day they will be in a school, working with children or young people. They study with us in an evening or on a Saturday, but they’re still so full of energy and really engaged in what’s happening. It means that the discussions we have are current, relevant. We try to make sure that everything we do responds to the issues they have; the things that are really important to their practice at the moment in schools. 

Because of their experience and knowledge, the discussions are livelier and more provocative, especially where you’ve got a mixed group; you get issues that are pertinent to everyone and things that are more particular to one context. We have a very international group of Masters students so we get some really good, interesting conversations going and hear different perspectives from diverse cultures. You start to see parallels, themes and ideas emerging through the discussions of that diverse group of learners. It’s fascinating.

What I really like about teaching at this level is the sharing of expertise; the recognition that at Masters level we’ve got people coming in with a lifetime of experience, in all sorts of different contexts, and it’s how we can learn from one another. It’s valuable as a teaching and learning environment for our students but it’s also very valuable as a way of moving research ideas along and enriching the academic community more widely. 

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