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  • Phoebe Robertson

Behind the Podium

Words by Phoebe Robertson (she/her), Dr. Nicola Hyland (she/her) Te Atihaunui-a-Pāpārangi and Ngāti Hauiti.


Do you recall the sensation of being in your first year, sitting in a lecture hall for the very first time with no idea what to expect? The anxiety and nervousness that would swirl around inside of you as you anticipated the start of classes. The feeling of the chair squeaking beneath you, remnants of gum stuck to its back. Of watching someone else fidgeting nervously, tapping their hands on their laptop. Do you remember gazing up at the professor at the front of the room, wondering what thoughts were running through their mind?

Well, what if I told you they were just as anxious as you were?


Since 2013, Nicola Hyland has been a lecturer in the theatre faculty at Te Herenga Waka. Every time she enters the classroom, she feels a sense of surreal nervousness, as if the entire room is waiting for her to begin. She admits that when she first started teaching, she would strictly stick to a script. Even now, some of her colleagues "practice" and "script" their lectures. But over time, Nicola has grown more comfortable in her role and no longer relies on a script. Instead, she focuses on connecting with her students and tailoring discussions to their individual interests. She brings up the concept of akoranga, and that teaching and learning are a mutual relationship not exclusive to each other. 


Speaking of the class as a whole, yes, she can see you making out at the back of the room. And no, she doesn't plan on saying anything about it. She observes the loud and outgoing students, but also pays attention to the quiet ones. As a theatre lecturer, it's not the loud students who catch her eye; it's the ones sitting alone in the back.


In what I thought would be a casual and lighthearted conversation, Nicola opens up about the most challenging aspect of being a lecturer: worrying about her students. She explains how she, along with other lecturers, takes notice when students are struggling and feels genuine concern for their wellbeing. However, this must also be balanced with maintaining professional boundaries, while still being supportive and empathetic.


She  frequently that university is challenging, and it's completely normal to feel overwhelmed. Giving extensions on assignments is a straightforward decision for her because she understands that students request them out of necessity. The context doesn't matter—what's important is that they are struggling, and need extra time. She emphasises how much academics want their students to succeed and pass their courses. For her and her colleagues, their main goal is to support and guide students towards success; it brings them great joy when they see their students achieve great things before and after graduation.


As we discussed the recent budget cuts affecting teachers, arguably the most significant university news of 2023, Nicola opened up to me about the pain and disappointment felt by the academic community. She shared that it was a moment of growth for her as she realised who her true friends and allies were, and was amazed by how many students stood in solidarity with the faculty. She expressed admiration for their dedication, as they balanced exams, lectures, and part-time jobs while participating in protests and supporting their teachers. This was, she says,  particularly evident within the theatre programme.


The conversation left me with one main takeaway: the lecturers, those individuals who spend their days lecturing and sending stern emails when assignments are late, truly have your best interests at heart. It's a sentiment that is too often absent in discussions about lecturers within our academic community. Their genuine concern for our success is something to be valued.


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