When I became familiar with the academic system in UK universities, I started to think of our own, and how Iraqi postgraduate environment doesn't really prepare its students to be academics, and qualified university teachers.
I started teaching in Al-Mustansiryah University few weeks after receiving my Master degree in English literature. I thought then that I was now qualified enough to manage a class of more than 50 students.
I turned to be wrong.
Yes, I was top student, and knew everything about my field, English literature. Yes, I read so many books about the subject and I could answer, even then when I just finished my master degree, any question about English literature. But, was I qualified then at the age of 25, with no actual teaching experience, to manage a class? No.
When I started teaching, I didn't have any training to develop presentation skills. I spent my life as a student, at the receiving end of the educational process. Although I studied in College of Education where I was supposed to graduate as English teacher, I was not interested to become one. I never liked any of the classes of learning psychology or methods of teaching which were supposed to help in developing the teacher in me (which was never been my dream job, rather my dad's!) While I always got top grades in literary subjects as well as Linguistics, I practically failed in those classes which teach students how to become teachers. Even in my final year in college, when every student was supposed to spend the second term in a school practicing teaching English, I spent only 20 days of actual teaching in the same high school I studied in couple of years ago. The disappointment and disillusionment at seeing the narrow-mindedness of those who were my teachers once and now my colleagues overshadowed my days there. I abhorred all the experience and considered those three weeks the worst in my adult life. No training was gained from those days I spent in school.
The master program in Iraq lasts for two years: two terms of courses directly related to the major of the student, and one year for thesis writing. I was active student in subjects like poetry, novel, Shakespeare, and criticism. Again no training was provided for presentation, public speech or academic research in the proper sense. We didn't have the opportunity to participate in conferences or public seminars the way postgraduate students do in UK, where students can develop the skills needed for conducting a lecture. or write an academic essay with distinct voice of their own. We were always told to avoid that personal vision, and rely on what other critics say. Master students in Iraq basically are trained to be parrots of established critics whose views they copy in their theses which would eventually would be thrown away on library forgotten shelves.
Because of the lack of senior professors qualified to supervise and teach in PhD programs, many disciplines have to accept master degree holders to teach, even if they are inexperienced like me when I started my job, regardless of the fact that I was qualified or not.
I started teaching holding in my head a torch of idealism about the world nurtured by geeky reading habits, enhanced by the fact I was in all-girls college, and protected by my anti-social life style that limited my human contacts to my immediate family and few girls I knew in class. This idealism was blown away by the chaotic aftermath of 2003 war, the fact that it was a college for boys and girls (and I had no experience in dealing with so many boys), and the cultural environment of the university itself which was totally different from what I experienced in the University of Baghdad where I studied.
It took me almost two or three academic years to overcome my disillusionment, to be gain footage in the teaching process, and to start thinking like a university teacher. Now as I reflect upon those early years, I wish I can apologize to all my students then whom I harshly marked their papers, probably killing their dreams of learning English, and crushing brutally crushing down their self-esteem.