You Are A Photographer, Not A Teacher, Yet…

I started teaching photography within a university setting in 2012. Ten years on and I am still trying to work out teaching, but what I do know is that as soon as I find a template and start repeating myself it will be time for me to stop.

I began with a common misunderstanding, the one where I thought that my job would be to pass on the knowledge and experience I had gained from many years working as a commissioned photographer and within the creative industries. I soon realized that this would not be my role and that to believe it would be was to disrespect the art of teaching.

What I know is the foundation of my teaching, but I have had to learn many other skills which I need to successfully communicate that knowledge. This is important. When I started teaching I had to eat some humble pie, I had to learn how to communicate with those not as engaged with the medium as I was, I had to teach not only what I knew but how and why I am so passionate about creative endeavours and the process of constantly learning.

This can be frustrating for some who have never had to break down what they do and present it in accessible formats such as lectures, workshops and seminars. Structure is important in teaching, not only personal structure but collegiate structure and collaborative structure.

Teaching is very different from giving a talk. As a teacher within Higher Education you are part of a team and a three year process that demands an understanding that what you are teaching is part of a bigger andragogic picture.

As a photographer you are to a great extent the master of your own universe. As a teacher you are part of a team and you need to fit into that team. Hopefully you will have an institution and course leader that will welcome you into that team and give you space to breathe but don’t expect that to happen.

Either way you will have to follow the rules, processes and requirements that will be in place to ensure continuity of teaching, marking and attainment. You will have to take on administration chores using unfamiliar online platforms and learn new academic terms of reference. You will have to engage with Moodle!

I hope I haven’t put you off wanting to teach photography. That is not my intention. However, I do want to make you aware of aspects of expectation you may not be aware of and to ensure that your eyes are wide open to the reality of teaching.

Moving from working as a photographer to teaching means starting again, learning new ways of working and committing to a new career. You will need to support young students whose life experience and backgrounds may be very different to your own, you will also need to develop multiple connection strategies to ensure your messages are delivered with an awareness of inclusivity. There is no room for egos.

In short you will need to learn as much as your students. You just won’t necessarily be learning the same things.

Image: © Grant Scott 2022

Dr. Grant Scott is the the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018

© Grant Scott 2022

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