Confessions of a media studies virgin
Hopefully you didn’t click on that title expecting titillation but if you did then move along, nothing to see here. After 23 years as a subject specialist in a completely different area of the curriculum I was becoming somewhat disillusioned with the subject took the advice to try teaching a different subject area. Fortuitously I was then asked if I would be willing to cover some media studies and photography, just for a few days, maybe a week. I’m sure many media studies teachers started long careers from a similar request but having been in the same role now for several months I feel slightly more qualified to write this blog and perhaps offer a little reassurance to anyone else thinking of jumping into the wonderful world of media studies.
The first thing to clarify is that my background is not the typical route into media, which would seem to be coming from English, humanities or other more ‘academic’ areas of study. No, I’m a woodwork teacher, better known as design and technology, but teachers in that area might understand the irony. ‘What's that,’ you cry, ‘a DT teacher moving into media studies? How bizarre!’
Well you may well be right but let’s look at what has actually made the move easier than expected.
Design relies very much on a knowledge of media; both textual and in terms of materials. Graphic elements are studied as is the use of ICT, and most technology teachers of an age are likely to have developed an interest in film and gaming, or at least the technology.
In my case it’s more than an interest; memories of slightly neglectful parents sitting me in front of the electric babysitter (TV) as a child resulting in an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of films from film noir through westerns, dramas, horror and sci-fi up to the latest releases. A passion for technology and computing led to an interest in video gaming at its very inception and I watched the technology grow and develop into today’s multibillion dollar industry.
So, despite starting from what first appeared to be a disadvantage, I soon found that exposure to film, game and advertisements throughout my life actually put me at an advantage to teachers of the subject coming from a more academic background. These experiences, although passive to begin with, became more critical throughout later life and, with every post-film pub conversation I was unknowingly developing skills of critical analysis and an understanding of narrative, representation, genre, industry and audience. I just didn’t realise it at the time.
Post graduate study meant that Maslow’s theory was already covered as were other relevant academic principles so it wasn’t that difficult to apply the theories of Todorov, Barthes, Levi-Strauss. Blumler and Katz, Propp and Mulvey et al to the media and texts I already knew well. The first few lessons may have been uncomfortable in terms of adjusting to the coursework requirements after so many years teaching another subject, but by the end of the week I was giving lectures on game development and theory and critical appreciation of modern sci-fi cinema like a pro. I was even mistaken for a subject specialist at one point and who would have thought that four days earlier? I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when a top grade Advanced level student introduced me to a Year 9 taster class as ‘knowing way more about the subject’ than they did. If only they knew, but they didn’t so I must have done something right.
Now, I am not saying for one minute that teaching media studies is easy, it’s far from it and every day I learn something new. I would compare it more to English than any other subject. As that is a revered academic subject my perceptions of the subject as being a bit ‘wishy washy’ have been well and truly dispelled. As well as the academic study, media studies also requires an understanding of theories, how to apply them to the texts studied, and use them to inform the productions; and that’s before we even get onto the technicalities of the production itself.
However, if any of the above resonates with you and you have at least a passing interest in media, should the opportunity to teach the subject present itself, especially in the absence of a subject specialist, then I say give it a go; you may actually love it!
I jokingly tell my ‘non teaching’ friends that I now get paid to watch films and play video games but that’s just because they might not understand the complexities of the subject and the amount of academic work needed to achieve success…plus it winds them and who can resist that!
I don’t know how long I will continue in this role, if at all, but it has been a refreshing and enjoyable experience where I have discovered that experiences I once simply accepted as entertainment have proven to be valuable in the classroom. What I do know is I now leave work with a smile on my face wearing a smart suit that is not covered in oil and sawdust…and for that reason alone I am in no rush to get back to woodwork.
Paul has taught design and technology for 23 years in a range of schools with stints as HOD and Head of a Creative Arts Faculty. He is currently taking a short break from DT to teach photography and media studies.
His Subject Genius blog is shortlisted for the 2016 TES Awards.