Teaching is performance. In a classroom, everyone has a role and there are accepted protocols governing how the characters act and interact.

In 2020 and pre-COVID, at age 67, I decided to do what I had wanted to do when I left school half a century ago and enrolled in an undergraduate Arts degree. In so doing, I became a mature-age student.

My brief was simple. Enjoy yourself. Learn something new. Keep your head down. Don’t be THE mature-age student everyone hates. Contain the temptation to peer-review every class. Just be in the moment!

The first lecture came. I smiled knowingly as other mature-age students, fulfilling the stereotype, gravitated to the front row. Their unnecessary questions were met with just-audible groans. I had sensed this disturbance in the force before but had selectively ignored it.

Next lecture, our canny lecturer politely answered the most persistent interrogator’s latest question before pausing, fixing her gaze, and quietly enquiring, “what’s your name?”.  “Mary” she said. In that moment, the lecturer had taken her photo and stolen her soul. The groaners had a focus of scorn to unite them. Mary was puffed up with pride oblivious to what had just happened. I was singularly grateful it wasn’t me.

My turn was yet to come. I emailed a resource to a lecturer adding a throwaway remark about enjoying the subject but not feeling on top of the content. His prompt reply was a polite thank you and a personalised “Mary-slap.” Apparently, hilariously, I was not to worry and should be reassured that my contributions and enthusiasm were greatly appreciated. Ouch!

The lecturers gave a bravissimo performance, deftly handling perceived transgressions.  Mary played true to type. Me, I just forgot my lines and stumbled into the stereotype I had dreaded. My problem is that I know the code: “enthusiastic” and “diligent” are not compliments, they are reminders to calm down.

My brief to self now has additional instructions: ‘Don’t help’ and, in bold all-caps, ‘NEVER SOUND [even vaguely] NEUROTIC.’

Margaret Lloyd, ALTF, Adjunct Professor, Queensland University of Technology. [email protected]

The Australian Learning & Teaching Fellows (ALTF) Legacy Report is here

She reviewed on-line teaching styles for CMM here.




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