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Why I Teach - Vera Dolan, PHD

Vera Dolan photo

When I was a little girl in Brazil, I used to arrange a class of doll-pupils in front of me so they could give their undivided attention to whatever I wrote on a blackboard. Then, at 16, I finally had the chance to do some "real" teaching. Our school had posted an ad looking for peer tutors. I immediately volunteered to teach English but was sad to learn that another student already had that role. Not one to take no for an answer, I quickly asked, "Okay, what subjects have you got left?" When I heard the reply—Physics—an inner voice said, "Don't you dare!" But I immediately blurted out, "I'll take it!" So over the next few weeks, I spent every evening memorizing the solutions to the physics problems I'd be covering the next day. And I spent every class hoping I wouldn’t be asked any question that demanded an unscripted answer. That stressful yet exhilarating experience was surely a sign that teaching was my true calling.

In 2000, another novel experience came my way: I began teaching graduate students online. And soon enough, I developed a passion for e-learning, eager for those aha moments with students in real-time conversations. This is what I love most about teaching at NCU. Taking advantage of technology, I can exchange ideas with my students as if we’re actually talking to each other across a table. Unlike skeptics who see online education as not personal enough, I feel triumphant each time my students and I prove once again that physical distance is not an obstacle. And even better, we can have these meetings without students even realizing that I’m wearing pyjama pants—though they usually notice when my dog makes a cameo appearance. These are conversations between real people with real lives and a shared desire to succeed. When we can be more authentic and relaxed than we might be in a brick-and-mortar environment, I believe that more significant opportunities for learning are bound to happen. We all win.