Tas Husain left the intensely competitive world of trading to try her hand at teaching. And there, standing at the front of a classroom, she says she found her calling.
Macquarie students certainly agree, with Tas winning the Faculty of Business and Economics Student-Led Teaching Award for 2018. We sat down with Tas to find out her secrets for keeping a room full of students captivated every week, and why making the move to teaching was one of the best things she ever did.
TW: Firstly, congratulations on the award – how does it feel to be recognised by your students in this way?
I haven’t been able to stop smiling about it. Of course, my Admin Manager and Head of Department tell me I do a good job, and that means a lot to me. But it’s something particularly special when my students say ‘she’s good’ – that’s when I know I’ve made a difference.
It’s like when soldiers get purple hearts. When it’s from your team – the people that have seen you on the front line – it means so much more.
You were a trader on the London Metal Exchange. What made you decide to be a teacher?
Trading was a very stressful environment. I didn’t like the person I was becoming – I was getting very arrogant. I remember quitting and my friends saying “Thank God!”.
I moved into academia by chance when I was doing my MBA and the Dean asked me if I’d like to take a couple of his classes. At first I thought, “Teaching? No, I can’t do that.” But I realised that standing in front of a classroom satisfied two things: firstly, my need for attention – I’ve always been a drama queen – but there is also this absolute sense of satisfaction when a student comes up to you and says “Oh! That makes so much sense now!”.
How would you describe your approach to teaching?
Understand what the students go through, where they’re coming from, and what it’s going to take to get each student where they need to be. The first thing I tell students is “if I don’t see the performance from you that I know you’re capable of, I will yell at you.”
I’m very real with my students – extremely real. I tell them, “guys, let’s not waste our time here. How much are you spending on this unit – $4200? If you’ve got $4200 to waste, let’s not do it here – let’s go shopping!”
I’m also very upfront in telling them I have a very limited repertoire of jokes. It gives them more incentive to pass – they don’t want to be hearing the same jokes next semester!
Why do you think your students think so highly of you?
I make it a big priority to get to know each of my students personally – it’s something I feel very passionate about. If the students know my name, I need to know theirs. If I see a student on campus, I call them by their name. If they miss a class, I make sure they know I’ve noticed.
I think students appreciate that more than anything else. Yes, I know the content, I know how to teach. But it’s that commitment that says I care. And they know that I expect them to damn well care too.
What role do you think you play in your students’ success?
You have to see yourself as a personal coach, in a way. You have to be clear that you’re there to help them. You’ve got to coach them through panic, through self-doubt.
I’ve seen the kind of work these students put in – often their families, friends and colleagues don’t understand the kind of pressure they’re under. I’ve got students who are working all night and then they’re coming to class in the morning and still putting the work in. If they’re showing me that kind of commitment, I cannot but show them the same commitment in return.
How do you engage your students in class? How important is storytelling, for example?
I read somewhere that teaching is 10 per cent knowledge and 90 per cent theatre. You’ve got to be an artist, you’ve got to modulate. My classes are like a play in themselves – I scream, I shout, I go soft. You’ve got students in there for three hours – you can’t let them get bored.
The best feedback I can get is that I don’t teach from the slides. It shows you know your content inside-out. And that comes from experience, from corporate experience, from real life experience. Storytelling is only possible if you’ve got stories to tell.
Do you think effective classroom teaching can be learned?
You can be an absolutely brilliant academic or researcher but that doesn’t necessarily make you a good teacher. It’s a whole different skillset. Unless you can articulate, you won’t be effective in front of a classroom. I will always refer to myself as a teacher. I need to be at the frontline and of course, my future research will help enhance that!
The only negative feedback I tend to get is that I can go too fast – sometimes I’m like a runaway steam train. My passion for my subject can also be my undoing!
Do you use digital technologies as part of your teaching arsenal?
No, it’s just me. I’m lucky that the subject I teach is very conducive to the way I teach. If I had to teach digital arts or media, I’d be lost – I’m just not that tech-savvy. The teachers that do that are brilliant! Again, it’s all about different skill-sets.
What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?
It’s the email or handwritten note at the end of semester saying “thank you, I couldn’t have done it without you”. I know it sounds cheesy, but the effect is unbelievable. It’s instant gratification and you know that you’ve truly made a difference.
We don’t forget good teachers. I still remember my fourth-grade teacher, and my old classmates and I still talk about how brilliant she was. I’d love to be talked about like that, years and years down the track. It would be great to walk down the street in 20 years time and have someone stop me and tell their child “See, this is the teacher I was telling you about!”.
Do you think you’ll continue teaching in the long term?
Yes. This is what I do. I’ll do it as long as I have a voice. I’ve got trader friends who say “What are you doing, Tas?” – they can’t understand why I’d give up a lucrative trading career for teaching.
Trading nourished the arrogance in me, and I wouldn’t be a good teacher without having had that experience. But teaching nourishes every part of me.
Join the conversation about the role we all play in student success. Register for the All Staff Town Hall on Monday 12 November, as the University launches its Student Success Strategic Framework.
The Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Awards will be held on 31 October. We’ll be celebrating some of these outstanding teachers in This Week over the coming weeks.