Some evidence for the value of the kind of teaching I advocate and practice is captured in student evaluations and feedback. Below I list some of the nomination statements, provided by Kent Union, for the Best Teacher award at the University of Kent that I was awarded in 2014.
They suggest a desire among students for a kind of honest and personalised teaching, that has transformational potential. I copy them here because they identify something that these students appreciate that is critical of neo-liberal informed research (REF) and teaching (TEF) assessment that accentuate the split between research and teaching. Good research makes for better teaching, good teaching can inform research.
One student below states ‘Mike is a wonderful lecturer who combines theory, his own research and contemporary issues which his students can relate to in his sessions.’ For me to be able to develop new classroom pedagogies that connect research and teaching I need the time to explore them without the need for that experience to be necessarily translated into the kind of publication increasingly valued by institutions that would inevitably need to be either teaching focused or research focused. There is a space of creativity in the dialogue between teaching and research that should be supported for its pedagogical value, and for its capacity to support publications that because of feedback processes with students will be more accessible to wider audiences, and therefore have potentially greater public and policy impact. These also require more time to develop as they do not fall within current publication expectations. The outputs I have created that affirm this space of creativity are video based and reflect my learning at the boundaries of research and teaching. Both One Week West of Molkom and Five Ways In, I consider to capture key aspects of the meeting point between teaching and research. The first features sharing as a key community practice, the latter improvised movement as a knowledge practice. I use both in my teaching.
Student Nominations for Kent Union Best Teacher Award 2014
Imaginative lectures and seminars that make you share knowledge from readings. Open to questions and meetings.
Very inspiring lecturer, cares about his students and this comes across in his lectures, which are well…
Mike is without exception, fully engaging, empathetic and emphatic. He clearly puts a lot of effort into the planning and execution of seminars, and no seminar ever feels like a monotonous repeat of the previous week. He finds unusual and engaging ways to draw us into anthropological discussion and makes the content accessible to the whole class regardless of whether the students have come prepared. Seminar discussion is never awkward. In terms of essays, he gives thoughtful and insightful feedback. As a result we feel validated and recognised for our efforts whilst having a clear and concrete indication of areas for improvement. Very importantly still, when interacting with students he is very human, never patronising and always amiable.
– He always replies on time to emails (very rarely the next day). – Is very approachable inside, and outside lectures. – Innovative seminars, involving group work, and frank conversation. – Detailed essay feedback. – Lets us decide which films we want to watch as part of our Visual Anthropology Theory (SE554) screenings. – Instigating the SAC (School of Anthropology and Conservation) Media Team.
Mike’s feedback on assignments, essay plans, and general ideas, thoughts and comments on screenings and topics within visual anthropology are phenomenal. He puts his students at ease, and helps guide us to allow us to gain our own personal insights and understanding. He is laidback, and approachable yet forces his students to think critically about the material, and form our own conclusions. His feedback is helpful, thought-provoking, and in-depth.
I’ve never had a lecturer who has been more passionate about his subject area than Mike. Every lecture is entertaining and informative. I’ve had the pleasure of learning from Mike in two modules now, and in each I have attained my highest marks, including a first in ethnography! Other than this he consistently provides his students with helpful opportunities relating to essays and extra-curricular, educational activities.
Mike has well organised seminars and lectures which think out of the box – you have to be on your toes.
Dr. Poltorak is engaging in the classroom as well as with his supervisees. He is always eager to help. Enthusiastic about his subject and shows true passion for what he does.
Mike is an inspiring teacher. He has inspired a whole group of us from his class to further our interest in Visual Anthropology, all hopefully taking on Social Documentary as a career path. He is extremely friendly and intelligent and imparts his wisdom in such an accessible human way. he does not treat students as if they are ‘below him’, but treats us all as equal adults – extremely refreshing in the university environment. Every lecture and seminar he has filled with passion, new ideas and new ways of teaching us concepts. He is by far the best teacher I have come across at University. We all thank his hard work in our class, and the type of group he has created – there is a strong sense of community in our Visual Anthropology class and a striving to learn with and from each other which. I cannot imagine the class would be nearly as great with any other teacher. Mike is an inspiring teacher!
Engaging, beautiful style of teaching. Personal and emotive. Incredibly enjoyable course, refreshing! For high enthusiasm and passion in the subject that inspires his students.
Makes everything relatable and enlightening. So fun to learn with Mike and has shaped my career choices.
Mike is a wonderful lecturer who combines theory, his own research and contemporary issues which his students can relate to in his sessions. His under graduate seminars are the most enjoyable I have attended in my 5 years at Kent, everyone participates and engages in the weeks discussion, which is rare. The smaller post grad seminars are equally as lively and yet remain relaxed and comfortable, Mike is both a calm, encouraging and confidence giving teacher.
Mike is by far the most engaging, most enthusiastic and most passionate teacher I have ever experienced at university. His completely open teaching style not only makes it easy to digest what otherwise would be complex theoretical topics but his demeanour and attitude towards his students, as well as the subject which he is clearly passionate about beyond the realms of merely teaching it, make him one of the few members of staff who are easily approachable and who always have time to assist any student.
Mike’s seminars are always worth dragging yourself out of bed for. They don’t only cover the readings or the lecture material, they cover life. You never know what to expect when you enter the room, but everyone leaves smiling and with something to think about. The sheer enthusiasm he brings to classes is contagious.
Mike approaches his teaching with great enthusiasm. From day one his insight and evocative teaching style was enthralling. It is apparent that he thoroughly enjoys the teaching environment. His knowledge and inspiring teaching methods make it a joy to attend his lectures. His involvement within the department and extra-curricular aspects relating to Anthropology show that he is deeply passionate about his discipline.
The only lecturer I have who has mastered the perfect blend between relatability and education. He always seems genuinely interested in my ideas and supportive of my endeavours for coursework.
Mike Poltorak is easily one of the best lecturers and seminar leaders I’ve ever had. The reason I’m nominating him is that he’s very engaging and passionate about his subject. He’s never afraid of being original in the ways he delivers his lectures and always thinks of new ideas to make the seminars exciting and interesting. Not only that but he relates to the students and is not patronising. He fully deserves an award.
Enthusiastic teacher and lecturer who made us all feel comfortable and enthusiastic about the module. Used alternative teaching methods, such as visual aids and physical movement to help us understand the course content, rather than just sitting and listening to lectures.
Mike does so much work for his students that is not constituted by his lectures and seminars, which are also engaging, intellectual and fun. He has found that great balance by teaching without his students knowing that they are learning difficult, complex topics. I leave lectures and seminars in a great frame of mind, having learnt a lot and engaged with lots of my colleagues. In addition, his work on the open days and other projects give us great avenues to pursue in our field of study and school. Essentially, a lot of lecturers could take a leaf of out Mike’s book, as he is approachable, knowledgeable and able to relate to his students on multiple levels.
Mike Poltorak, is not just a wonderful teacher but he is a truly caring man. He is passionate about what he teaches and shows each of us the potential we have for the subject, not only are his lectures interesting and engaging but he has a truly caring side. He wishes to nurture us but still letting us keep a string sense of individuality. In my personal experience he has taken the time to get to know me and encourage my own interests within his area. I feel like i can come to him with any subject related issue and it will be solved. Out of all my lecturers i cannot think of another that best deserves this award. He goes above and beyond what is expected of him and makes every student feel like they can reach beyond their potential.
Mike is a superb teacher, he’s enthusiastic, energetic, and has been incredible helpful during my degree. Thus deserves the recognition of having this illustrated on a professional level.
Mike is not a teacher in the sense that most understand, he is an experienced individual that is open and accepting of virtually any form of creativity. Because of this he can be an inspiration and provides a rare opportunity to work through our individual strengths and move beyond our weaknesses. I think many of my classmates would agree that unlike much of our education at university, Mike’s classes have widened our paths to opportunity rather than narrowed them.
Visual anth course is excellent Mike brings genuine enthusiasm to what he teaches. Most importantly for me Mike goes beyond distilling the literature for us and brings something unique and profound to his teaching.