“Learning and laughing together”; this was how a former tutee, and now on-going friend of over 20 years, summed up my influence on his life and my personal contribution to life-long education. He wrote that compliment on my Facebook page when he heard of my appointment to OBE.
Dr David Evans, a National Teaching Fellow and senior lecturer in sexual health. He was appointed as Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire “for services to nursing and sexual health education” in The Queen’s Birthday Honours, 2017.
Five years as a student of nursing, followed by seven years as a student Catholic priest, and in all 40 out of 44 years since leaving school at 16 in some form of institution that provides education. This sums up my life-long learning to date, and I’ve got no plans to stop there! For me: studying, learning, and – most importantly – sharing that learning with others, is truly a life-long passion, especially when it involves teaching on sex, sexualities, sexual health and HIV studies.
Since completing the professional doctorate in education (EdD) in 2011, I have been fortunate enough, and maybe pushy enough, to deliver customised sessions on relevant aspects of sexual health on every single healthcare programme in our Faculty. That includes pre- and post-qualifying / undergraduate and post-grad nursing (children’s, adults, mental health & learning disabilities branches), midwifery, public health and paramedic science.
Prof Laura Ritchie, NTF, once said of me:
“This is David Evans, he is one of the most exuberant NTFs you’ll ever meet […] As a teacher, everybody changes lives, but he must have those ‘Ah-ha!’ moments, where he actually deals with different levels of burdens, whether it’s guilt, shame … you know, no matter … he’s going to change a lot of people’s lives in various ways. He’s been brave enough to talk to us about things we don’t necessarily talk about to our partners, friends, or children.”
How can we seriously talk about sex without also having a laugh? Laughing, with people, not at them, of course, can be therapeutic; it can also help overcome embarrassment. Appropriate humour is the grease that oils the wheels of sensitive learning in sex. That’s why I love education: it deals with real people, and can have such a positive impact on life.
Although I had heard of “National Teaching Fellows” and “University Teaching Fellows” and other such Fellowship titles in the past, I wasn’t sure of the difference between them all. It was my Head of Department who recommended that I look into the NTF scheme after receiving a number of really good student evaluations, even for brief sessions I taught on colleagues’ courses.
That’s how it all started. Now, every time I introduce myself to a class, I tell them that I am a “National Teaching Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Sexual Health”, and I explain what NTF means – then they frequently give a round of applause! I don’t do it for that, but I tell them to raise awareness of what an NTF achievement is, as well as to keep me on my toes and ensure I constantly strive to deliver excellence.
I remember having to write the 5,000 words ‘claim for excellence’ in November and December, with the final version being done over the Christmas and New Year holiday season. The process was exciting, time consuming and exceptionally validating. It gave me chance to look back over almost a quarter of a century of doing my very best, to provide the most perfect education I could, at all times and in all circumstances.
The personal and professional validation that this title carries is just wonderful. It has opened new doors; it has increased opportunities for working in different ways and in new environments (such as with Faculty and University committees and creative learning initiatives). It affords a certain gravitas, as well as institutional prestige (I’m a KPI now!). But it has its costs, too, as there’s always more work to be done.
Being a National Teaching Fellow helps my teaching practice by enabling me to inspire learners to expect greatness in their learning from me. It has put me more at ease about challenging; being challenged; inspiring; thinking not just ‘outside the box’, but as one Queer Theorist put it: as though the box doesn’t even exist!
I think the NTF scheme is amazingly important for raising the profile and expectation of excellence in teaching and learning at local, university, level, and across the Higher Education sector, by truly validating individuals who demonstrate it. It is the pinnacle award for teaching excellence, on a par with similar titles in other countries around the world. It is an international currency for teaching excellence.
To me, teaching means “learning and laughing together…for life”, what does it mean to you?