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Meet the Tutors: Dr Mike Courtney

Graphic card: Photograph of Dr Mike Courtney alongside the text "Meet the Tutors - Dr Mike Courtney, School of Languages & Applies Linguistics"

Dr Mike Courtney’s career began with a high-flying role as a commercial airline pilot. Yet academics would be where he’d earn his wings, eventually becoming an Associate Lecturer (Tutor) in the School of Languages and Applied Linguistics.

Mike has since honed his teaching style to such a point he recently won a WELS Tutor Award. The praise he received from students, who voted for the winners, was glowing. “I felt Mike was genuinely on my side and wanted me to succeed,” one said. “He was also interested in us as people, and has a great sense of humour.” 

In his own words, Mike talks about the work he’s so passionate about.

“I started life as a commercial airline pilot but later decided I wanted more in my career than just flying to schedules. Instead, I joined a London-based research group, which gave me a lifelong interest in investigating and questioning data provenance – an important issue for students, particularly now!

“This led to a PGCE in Education, working at primary and secondary level in Maths and Language Education. From there I became the director of an adult education centre, and then started lecturing at University, completing a doctorate in Language Studies.

“I’ve taught at Universities in the UK, China, Japan, the Middle East and Europe, teaching exchange students on what was the very valuable ERASMUS scheme. I taught and developed modules for The Open University of Hong Kong, and then started teaching for The Open University UK and supervising OU doctoral students.”

“The OU’s values really resonate with me”

“I’ve always supported the OU’s philosophy of inclusiveness, and, in my experience, feel it has the best resources and support for students and staff. That’s why I’m happy to stay in my OU teaching role for as long as possible.

“My own doctoral studies and research interests have definitely informed my OU teaching. I always try to promote the importance of critical thinking and evidenced-based work, as well as academic conventions and writing skills. I’m a bit of an academic workaholic and have authored books on academic skills, as well as written complete University modules.”

“Three fundamentals inform my approach”

“My career has shown me whether one is teaching infants or adults, in any culture, the basic requirements of all students are the same: to feel safe, respected and nurtured in the classroom. I put myself in my students’ shoes and never adopt a ‘them and us’ ontology. I see students as people and treat everyone as I’d want to be treated – respectfully and professionally.”

“If I were to teach teaching, this would be my advice”

“Always guide and challenge, but never judge. Keep in good communication with students and make sure you know something about their study contexts. Follow-up emails quickly – this is very important, particularly in largely online settings.

“Give timely, full feedback on assessments. Improvements can be suggested positively – negativity is counterproductive. Record tutorials and send out notes beforehand. This is especially important for students whose first language isn’t English. And remember: there is something in the saying that there’s no such thing as a bad student, just bad teachers.”

“I share my WELS Tutor Award with my incredible colleagues”

“I was very surprised to receive my award. Initially, not being a great fan of the ‘Employee of the Month’ motivation philosophy, I thought of all the other great OU staff I’ve worked with who should be recognised. These ‘unsung heroes’ are largely invisible to students, but equally important. I couldn’t be the tutor I want without them.”

“Humour is a crucial part of the job”

“Always being prepared to laugh and learn with students is at the heart of a successful tutor/student relationship. I never take myself too seriously and encourage a relaxed rapport. Seeing the funny side of things with students helps them enjoy the learning journey, not fear it.”

“I’m both an example and an ally to my students”

“Tutors are always seen as role models whether we like it or not, so we must model positivity. Obviously, students have many more potential things to worry about now, including financial, work and health issues. I try to show my students I’m there for them even though their problems may not be transparent, or perhaps even known to themselves.

“We’re very privileged to know our students for a year or more, so this relationship offers opportunities for useful conversations. As my many career changes show, it’s okay to try different things until you find the best place for you.”

“The career I once left behind is still part of my life – just as a hobby”

“I’ve retained my interest in flying – seeing things from above always puts everything in perspective. I also paint and exhibit in galleries both in the UK and internationally.

“As for the future, I have some books to write in mind (don’t we all!) and several painting commissions I’ve neglected for too long. I enjoy attending conferences in my subject area and want to keep learning and teaching for as long as possible.”

Find out more about learning languages and linguistics at the OU.
Find out more about becoming an Associate Lecturer with the OU.
See all current Associate Lecturer vacancies within the Faculty of WELS.

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