Butterflies in the stomach, it must be October! Teaching a brand new cohort of interpreting students is about to start....

Time has come to let go of secrets. Mine is simple: every year, at the same period, I feel stressed out and lost. Make no mistake, it always coincides with teaching a new cohort of interpreting students... More than 40 postgraduate interpreting students have entrusted me to bring them through a personal and professional journey of learning and discovery. They have paid money and made sacrifices with the hope that their interpreting career can take off and allow them to earn a living, gain satisfaction and make progression.

Every year, the same symptoms creep in about one week before the teaching starts; I feel I do not know anything. A spiral of thoughts and doubts bombard my confidence and I am reduced to a nervous wreck. I anticipate the joys, think about the students I interviewed, the work we will do together and the development of professional lives including mine. What is normally positive becomes paralysing. However hard I try, I cannot convince myself that it will be OK. Stage fright? Not that simple...

Some of my 'old' students know about this by now shared secret and send me encouraging e mails to boost my confidence. But still, nothing doing. My friends and family tell me that I have been teaching interpreting for years and that surely by now I know what I am talking about.

But this is it; it is not about me. It is not about what I know or what I will teach. It is not about what students need to learn... It is far more complex than that.

A group of individuals coming from different backgrounds, some of them young and others more mature, different cultures and education systems will come together to share a purpose: acknowledge where they are in time and where they want to be in a year's time... sometimes even longer. They have dreams and expectations, doubts and concerns. They will travel long distances and commute between countries or large cities to engage in a complex learning experience. They have made a financial commitment to attend the course because they believe that this is the way forward to a new career, a new life and often a new identity. When I admitted them to the course, I too made the commitment that with their existing skills, I can make them cross the road and carry on their journey...

Somehow, this mixture of formal and informal knowledge, and this thirst for change and self belief come together under one roof, at a very precise time. 

LondonMet Interpreting students about to start their own mock conference
When I look at students coming to the course induction, I remember the journey from the moment I received the application forms, to the exchange of e mails for the entry test, to the test itself and the positive outcome, and now to the materialisation of the decision into these very first minutes of class. This is a powerful moment I never fail to feel, possibly touch and embrace as I have to create a special encounter between dreams and reality, personal journeys and group dynamics, students and teaching. From that moment onward, I feel empowered with the strong desire to lead the group into a journey of self discovery, to create opportunities to succeed and fail, to learn to fail in order to succeed better in a safe environment. The group then becomes a self energised tool that generates self opportunities, guided by the pedagogical team but also by their reflective learning, their experience of learning together, generating a unique dynamics which for me is the spirit of the community of practice.

This unique embodiment of synergies and creativity should never be taken for granted. It takes so much 'magic' to make it happen. Despite the books on education theories and the research, I find that no word can express the perfect formula that makes 'it' work. 'It' simply is the magic of teaching.

The first three weeks of teaching need to be the perfect encounter between students, staff and interpreting alumni called ambassadors at Londonmet. Three weeks so that the group understands they can connect from the same desire to move forward into a practice that they share, create an environment of mutual exchange and enriching experience and as such realise that  they have formed a community of practice.

Etienne Wenger observes that a 'social artist' is always present in a CoP, somebody who seems to facilitate the engagement into a CoP. I need to confess that this is how I secretly feel at times, especially at the beginning of teaching; not so much as a social artist with the limelight on my success but rather a social artist that performs a form of 'magic' that no one can see with the eyes but feel and perceive so as to form a community engaged into a shared practice, thinking and evolving as a CoP.

D. Day minus one... Tomorrow is the day.

Happy reading.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author’s own and should not be taken to represent the official positions of universities, networks or associations.


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