What's it like being a good teacher?

Interview with dr Aleksandra Wierucka - the winner of the K.C. Mrongowiusz Teacher of the Year Award.

- 'I try to be closer to students, don't put up barriers, communicate openly and avoid poses. I do not have a monopoly on knowledge, so I am always willing to listen to students' opinions. I also make mistakes, but I admit to them. If I don't know the answer, I say I don't know, but I'll find out. Nowadays, nobody knows everything,' says dr Aleksandra Wierucka from the Department of Cultural Studies at the Institute for Cultural Research at the Faculty of Philology of the University of Gdańsk, who is the winner of the Mrongowiusz Teacher of the Year Award at the University of Gdańsk. We asked her what it is like to be a good teacher?

The Krzysztof Celestyn Mrongowiusz Teacher of the Year Award is presented each year at the University of Gdańsk to academic teachers for outstanding teaching achievements. The patron of the award is Krzysztof Celestyn Mrongowiusz (1764-1855), an outstanding Gdańsk pedagogue and scholar, meritorious for the preservation of the Polish identity of Pomerania, a teacher of Polish at the Gdańsk Academic Middle School.

Shortlisted candidates for the award for the best teacher are proposed by the Deans of Faculties in agreement with the Faculty Councils of the Student Self-Government and selected by the Competition Committee. It is composed of students and academic staff who consider candidates for the award for outstanding scientific, teaching and organisational passion.

The awards are traditionally presented on March 20th each year during a ceremonial meeting of the UG Senate on the occasion of the UG Feast.

Dr Aleksandra Wierucka from the Department of Cultural Studies at the Institute for Cultural Research of the Faculty of Philology of the University of Gdańsk is interviewed by Ewa Karolina Cichocka.

- Have you always wanted to teach and be a teacher?

- Definitely not. I'm more of an introvert, but for some reason dealing with students gives me a lot of satisfaction. I really appreciate the students' non-standard approach, openness, willingness to discuss... It goes along with my views. I rather don't think of "teaching" as transferring knowledge - rather "co-teaching", as I learn a lot from my students. I hope that both sides benefit from such a reciprocal activity.

- Does the passion of the researcher help in teaching? After all, some researchers work individually and only then are they successful. Is it worth sharing knowledge?

- Research is part of our work and in my case, it definitely helps in teaching. The subjects I teach are cultural anthropology, field research and indigenous cultures of the world - I don't think I would have enough perspective to teach without my research. In addition, I share my research with students - we have been on research together many times both in Poland (in Kociewie and Mazovia) and abroad (in Ecuador, Russia, Thailand, Sweden and Norway). The students are very open to new experiences, and researching together has always brought us much joy.

- How to be a good academic? Do you have to be more of a master or a colleague?

- I don't think I have a good, clear answer to this question. Every lecturer has their own style of teaching and interacting with students, so I can only comment on my personal experience: I try to be closer to the students, not put up barriers, communicate openly and avoid posturing. I realise that I do not have a monopoly on knowledge, so I am always willing to listen to the opinions of students, who often know very interesting things and can share this knowledge for the benefit of all. I also make mistakes, like everyone else, but I admit to them and if I don't know the answer to a question, I say that I don't know, but I will check and find out because nobody knows everything nowadays.

- You run the Mosaic Study Group at the Faculty of Philology. What does it do? Is this a way to infect students with the work of a researcher?

- Mozaika is my driving force at the university. The students in the club are fantastic, open, eager to act - they motivate me to work. In fact, I don't "lead" the Circle, but the students of the Circle lead me because this activity is the result of the students' interests and work: they come up with proposals for events, plan them and carry them out. If I can help them with something, I am very happy.

Mozaika has been active since 2007, so we already have a lot of experience, although the group is, of course, constantly changing with each passing year. The students who founded the circle already have their own families, jobs and lives of their own, but - and this makes me very happy - they stay in touch with each other and become friends. In fact, I have contact with many of them to this day. Working together and going on field trips certainly had an impact. During the research trips, we faced very different situations, solved all sorts of problems, but good communication and understanding were always important. I have very fond memories of all these trips - each one was different, but they all add up to my picture of working in the circle as a good time. In addition to the research trips, Mosaic organises many on-site events that deal with cultural diversity, other perspectives on the world around us or the promotion of anthropology. Now, during the pandemic period, students from the circle are running very interesting online events and they are very creative about it. I guess I didn't expect that online activities could be so diverse and interesting - it just proves how much we can learn from our students in all aspects.

- Will it be easier or more difficult for you to work with this award?

- I think I'll be working exactly the same with the award. After all, we don't do our work for awards (although it's very nice to receive them - and this one is especially nice because it's given by the students themselves). It is fascinating to work with students because each of them contributes a lot. I hope that students who are willing to cooperate with us will appear at every subsequent year's course, as they have been so far.

- Thank you for the interview.


Ewa Cichocka/Press Office of University of Gdańsk