Few subjects are as critical for social development as teaching, yet Dr Simone Smala manages to put a fun twist on things.
Dr Smala can relate to international students who find Australia an attractive and fascinating place to study – as a senior lecturer in UQ's School of Education, she has now taught in Australia for more than three decades after relocating from her homeland of Germany.
“I saw my first koala in a gum tree when I was at one of my first schools. I’ll never forget all the children running outside and yelling, ‘There’s a koala in the tree, there’s a koala in the tree!’ It was so wonderful,” says Dr Smala.
“I was able to find out a lot about Queensland as a state in those early years and my job description meant I was not only based at one school, but was travelling to three other rural schools every week. I remember in such good terms what it was like to witness the amazing array of nature.”
Dr Smala’s speciality was teaching German and that desirable skill led to her receiving opportunities closer to Brisbane. Her deep-seated interest in understanding the science behind learning then encouraged her to pursue roles within universities.
“I was always interested in finding out more about what education means, for our world, for our society, how we can explain how people learn, why they learn, what their learning experience is,” she says.
“For me the natural next step was to embark on research to find out more about learning and how learners feel when they go through different steps in their learning process.
“My passion is bilingual education and within that passion I’m focusing on the integration of language and content, a fascinating area. It looks at what it is like to learn a language simultaneously with learning subject material.
“We have found so many new things about how the brain processes cognitive information.”
As an educator, Dr Smala prides herself on being both personable and engaging to her students. The fact that much of her research revolves around the use of social media in education means that her topics are always interesting and relatable.
“One of the first things I ask my students is ‘Give me the latest memes’,” Dr Smala laughs.
“I have embraced social media as a way to engage with so many different things. I run my own Facebook pages – one is actually called ‘Teaching for Humans’. What I focus on there is to share interesting materials and interesting stories from all over the world that show how important teachers are in the lives of their students.
“I hope this sentiment comes over in my teaching as well and that students see I am really interested in their individual lives and individual experiences and that I can be part of their journey towards a new world, a new professional engagement.”
Dr Smala says her own experience from university of having engaging, entertaining lecturers has stuck solid in her mind, as has her memory of those lectures that were heavily content-based, but not as enjoyable.
“I do need to conduct large lectures, but I also focus on looking at my students in each tutorial and looking at each individual’s personal story,” she says.
“I remember those lecturers who listened to me and some of the struggles I had, and these struggles are quite normal.”
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