Words by Zein Saleh
On 20 September 2018, I received an email saying “Dear Zein, Congratulations! You have been nominated for an OCTAL award”. Until that particular instance, I had never heard of the OCTAL award. The OCTAL nomination on its own is an accomplishment. Having two or more students or peers nominate you and believe in your skills is something quite flattering.
There’s something particularly challenging about writing an OCTAL application. How do I describe my teaching philosophy? I don’t have an answer to that! Up until then I had never really thought about my teaching philosophy. The more I wrote about my teaching philosophy, the more gaps I discovered in it, and the more I became determined to improve. An OCTAL application consists of eight main sections and a total of approximately twenty pages. It takes a lot of time, but it is rewarding nevertheless. Forcing yourself to sit down and write about your teaching philosophy helps you to identify your areas of strengths and weaknesses. What are you really good at and where are your areas of potential improvement? What makes you special and unique?
The part I enjoy most about teaching is connecting with the students. I feel extremely privileged when a student shares with me their academic struggles and asks for help. I believe that the way to approach a personal problem is similar to the way you approach a maths problem. If university is supposed to provide students with the tools to solve complex problems in the outside world, then a tutor can use this unique platform to provide students with the tools to tackle the daily challenges and struggles.
There is a golden moment that every tutor or lecturer has experienced when the whole class is silent, focused, and where you can hear a pin drop. This is usually the moment when the students realize that what’s being explained or communicated is of utmost importance. In my case, this has almost always been when I share my industrial and research experience with my students. Students want to learn what the real world is really like and they often ask questions about how and where the applications of these tutorials are.
I would advise anyone who gets nominated for an OCTAL award to apply for it. If you don’t discover and learn more about yourself while writing the application, then you at least get to enjoy a prize of $2000.