My teaching philosophy

Cartoon on the banking concept of education

( I have asked my course participants to write theirs in 500 words, so I’m doing one in solidarity)

I started to teach straight out of my doctorate (in 2004), and was fortunate enough to be given a choice of topic. I naturally chose the topic of my thesis, as it was obviously what I knew best. My module was organised around 3-hour lectures, and my lectures were basically written based on my thesis. I quickly realised that my students were anxious to write down everything I said. The exam, a 3-hour affair at the end of term, confirmed my worst suspicions: the students just replicated, from memory (and memorising their notes) things I had said in my thesis. Some did it so badly-because after all learning isn’t just memorising-that I started to doubt whether I made mistakes in my own lecture: such was the level of fidelity between the lecture and the end product.

This experience made me realise that there is, there should be, more to learning than this. I wanted to enjoy teaching more. I wanted my students to learn something from it that was different to what I told them. Or perhaps do something with that. I also wanted to learn from the experience myself.

Years later, I found that the philosophy which appeals to me is the one put forward by Paulo Freire: critical pedagogy-especially the dimension which talks about teachers and learners being fellow travellers of the same, shared path towards learning. Part of Freire’s ideas cast the teacher not as a static source of a fixed truth, but as someone who is also learning, and is subject to change themselves. The reason Freire’s work appeals to me is that I see my role as a teacher not as one who is there to communicate a dominant narrative, an ‘orthodoxy’ of what’s what, but as one who is interested in critically discussing the topic at hand with students, learners, participants, offering his views and knowledge, while being able to consider, debate and (god forbid) accept those of others.

Quite frankly, it’s about acknowledging that the teacher’s knowledge has its limitations, and that it can be increased and refined through teaching, through conversations with students. The relationship for me can never be that of someone who delivers to someone who receives passively. There is more mutuality. If what we teach is irrelevant to the students’ knowledge (and being), it will fail to connect in a deep and meaningful manner. Students might be able to repeat it back to you, but we should aspire for more.

Years later I found that what I had accidentally done to my first students all those years ago, was what Freire called the banking concept of education. I had simply deposited something in my students’ brains, only to retrieve it further down the line as proof of learning. Had learning taken place? Encyclopaedically perhaps. But is that what higher education is about?

So this is why I ‘teach’ the way I do. I think.

Reflection theories and pedagogies: cross-disciplinary perspectives


What is this series about?

[Download the full programme here]

What is reflection? How does it work? How do we apply it to our scholarly work and practice? What does it mean to be a reflective practitioner? What are key theories of reflection? How can these inform the way we teach and assess reflection to our students?

These, and many other questions such as these, will be explored in an exciting new seminar series organised by CLAD & Learning Spaces in 2016-17. We will host a number of scholars from Birmingham and beyond, who will discuss theoretical and practical aspects of reflective practice.

There are two types of contributions to this series – contributions attending to theory and contributions offering examples of practice.

The series considers key theoretical approaches to reflection on a chronological basis. This allows for a deeper understanding of the origin and development of the concept of reflection, and facilitates a considered examination of the different approaches to reflective practice.

The practice sessions will not always be linked to a particular theorist, though it is intended that the theories may guide the consideration of these examples.

There series offers an opportunity for those attending to take part in discussions and to share ideas and perspectives.

Is it for me?

This series is open to everyone, and will be of particular interest to:

  • Anyone interested in exploring the theoretical underpinnings of reflective practice, and diverse theoretical approaches to reflection
  • Anyone interested in hearing about good practice, and sharing their own
  • Anyone involved in teaching and assessing reflective practice
  • Anyone currently involved in reflective writing

For further information contact the organisers Petia Petrova [] and Marios Hadjianastasis [].


The series will take place at the Centre for Learning and Academic Development & Learning Spaces, Watson Building, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT.

Booking for this series

Given the nature of the series we recommend that you consider attending all of the seven seminars if practicable. To book, please e-mail .

Violence as education in Cyprus



During my recent trip to Cyprus it occurred to me that recent generations, including mine, were brought up with the ever-present backdrop of violence. My generation, born during the 1974 conflict, had as its soundtrack the sirens and the sound of tanks in the background. I seem to remember child art from my time in nursery and early primary school depicting bombers, bombs, tanks, soldiers and death. We were, as children, fascinated by (our) soldiers, their helmets, weapons, bayonets and anything associated with them (and we were terrified by the ‘other’ soldiers). We played ‘war’ in the back yard and empty building plots in my neighbourhood. We made rifles out of bits of wood, helmets out of chicken wire, re-enacting conflict as leisure. We grew up with the ubiquitous military parades, hollow displays of power and bravado against the enemy. These still take place today, as a promise that ‘next time we’ll be better prepared’.

I’d always known of this of course: Cyprus had experienced conflict and violence, political, ethnic and (let’s not forget) that caused by organised crime during most of the twentieth century. These different kinds of violence were of course not mutually exclusive, and recent research suggests an overlap between them at times. Violence was experienced in terms of the nationalist movements of EOKA and TMT from the 1950s onwards; during the labour movement in the 1940s, where unionists and strike-breakers (and their families) were the victims of violence; during the periods of ethnic tensions and conflict, from the 1950s until the forced partition and population exchange in 1974; during the violent suppression of a communist movement by the British, EOKA and TMT, and the state and its affiliated paramilitary groups; during the period of ethnic conflict between the Greek Cypriot National Guard and other paramilitary groups against Turkish Cypriot enclaves; finally, the violence experienced during the 1974 Greek/Cypriot coup d’etat against President Makarios and the subsequent Turkish invasion, which affected most of the population of Cyprus.

This violence, experienced first hand by children and adults, has since been propagated and re-experienced in a number of ways. Here I will touch upon two: the education system and mass media. In terms of the education system, I can speak mostly for the Greek Cypriot case. The education system had until recently as its core mission to indoctrinate children with a nationalist-driven truth. The dominant narrative exposed children regularly to instances and examples of violence, offering vivid and often visual evidence to promote a message of victimhood and injustice against ‘our’ nation, endemic in our relationship with the ‘other’, but most notably the Turks. The need to pitch our ‘nation’ in a timeless struggle against the other has found the imagery of violence extremely useful in causing shock and horror. From the descriptions of Athanasios Diakos‘ impalement, to the executions of Cypriot higher clergy (both in 1821) and a long series of pictorial representations of violence hence, have been utilised in education from early years to drive home the dominant narrative of suffering.

Other notable examples for the Greek Cypriot side include: images from the deaths of EOKA fighters, such as Gregoris Afxentiou, Kyriakos Matsis and others. I remember vividly as a child being exposed to such imagery. Afxentiou’s charred remains, Matsis’ bloody body after the battle in which his hideout was blown up, the bloody remains of the four fighters at a stable in Liopetri. Such images, clearly unsuitable for children, were freely utilised to shock and horrify, and ultimately calcify the dominant narrative. A visit to the Mouseion Agonos (the museum for EOKA’s anti-colonial struggle) was a must, and exposed young children to images and physical remains of violence. These were followed up with visits to the state prison where the bodies of 9 EOKA fighters who were executed by the British were buried. Visits to these graves were part of the primary school curriculum when I was growing up, as was a visit to the room where the gallows stood, accompanied by a description of how a hanging actually worked, levers and trapdoors included.* Needless to say, EOKA’s other violence, against Greek and Turkish Cypriots, had until recently been conveniently neglected. In fact, EOKA murdered more Greek Cypriots (148) than British soldiers (105) during its four-year anti-British struggle. The former were mostly communists.

Such violence came to be complemented with that of the conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, and in particular their respective armed groups. The period between 1967 and 1974 were on the whole downplayed in terms of dominant message, as ‘our’ side had a plethora of imagery from the 1974 Turkish invasion which helped its narrative.** We have imagery from the fighting and bombing, including the photo of a dead man hanging out of a ruined Famagusta building. Such imagery was utilised throughout education as a lesson about ‘barbarism’ (associated with the quality of ‘other’).

Alongside these examples from state education, mass media has also reproduced such images throughout the last half century. The state-owned channels (CyBC and Bayrak), as well as other, privately-owned channels, have produced and broadcast a series of documentaries on the Cyprus conflict, especially the 1974 events. Some of these are broadcast annually in July and August, when the anniversaries of the 1974 war occur.*** More recently we have had the brutal killings of two men (Tasos Isaak and Solomos Solomou) during anti-occupation protests in Dherynia (1996), which produced fresh media depicting violence and death which has since been utilised in a similar manner.

The impact

What impact has this systematic exposure to first- or second-hand violence had on Cypriots? Apart from the generations of people (especially children)**** involved directly in acts of violence or displacement, we also have generations of people for whom the violence is systematically repeated through education or media. This has potentially the ability to cause similar trauma as to those who have experienced violence first-hand. What impact does seeing the gallows and hearing the descriptions of hangings have on an 8-10 year old child? The violence plays out again in front of their eyes, and must have a similar impact to witnessing or being a victim of such violence themselves. The images and videos of Afxentiou’s death (burnt to death in his hideout in 1957), cannot but reproduce the violence once again for the children to witness afresh.

Considering the dozens of thousands of children who underwent this systematic exposure to violence, how can we analyse and interpret Cypriot society today, when those generations have reached maturity? One gets the sense that in Cyprus we live as if suspended in a relative period of calm likely to be disrupted by outbreaks of violence. The combined effect of the violent trauma in all of us and the continuing political limbo of the Cyprus Problem render our present situation, no matter how peaceful, temporary. It is as if we are not allowed to relax and take peace for granted. Outbreaks of violence are always likely, and we may (or not) be prepared for such eventuality.

How does our society, ‘westernised’ and ‘civilised’ today, enhanced by modern technological advances, exist with the underlying truth of violence? Is our modernity but a veneer over a dark, violent past and present? Is there always some violence threatening to surface, be it at a football match, night club or-in fact-a queue at Lidl on a Thursday morning? Is violence a shared skeleton in our closet, a common relation nobody wants to acknowledge?

It would make for a fascinating research project for someone, to carry out psychological and anthropological research among the Cypriot population to help define our attitudes to a wide range of ‘everyday’ topics, and our propensity to see violence as a potential solution. I wonder how we compare versus, say, the Maltese? Although scholars such as Papadakis and Bryant have explored the anthropological aspects of the Cyprus problem, it would be interesting to see the psychological impact of the conflict and the re-play of violence in the lives of the children of Cyprus.

The challenge for the teacher of today

The challenge for the teacher today is multiple. Firstly, to resist the exposure of children to such imagery and narratives of violence and hatred. Perhaps to a degree this is happening, but I am not convinced that we have denounced the reproduction of violence to those too young not to be traumatised by it. Secondly, teachers, and society more widely, must resist the utilisation of education-as-nationalist-narrative (or any dominant narrative in fact) in favour of a more relevant, pupil-centred approach which allows children to explore and shape their own truths based on their own social, economic and ethnic backgrounds. This is not far from a Freirean educational ideal, but let’s face it, it’s not happening any time soon. Such a shift would most likely be the result of the activity of individual teachers rather than an organised, top-down initiative. States are not likely to encourage a pedagogy which in turn encourages critical thinking and emancipation from sociopolitical and religious shackles.

It is possible to teach history not as a politically-driven dominant narrative, but as a shared endeavour to better understand the past based on evidence. Emotive (and traumatic) imagery and discourse only serves to distort such truths in the service of the elites. And it has so far succeeded.


* I have deliberately chosen not to include such imagery here. If you really want to find it, Google is your friend.

** However, for the Turkish Cypriots who were often on the receiving end of Greek-Cypriot state-sponsored violence against their enclaves and communities, there are other horrifying images which served their purpose. One such example is that of a mother and her three children, murdered in the bathtub in their house in 1963, and used as an example of Greek Cypriot barbarism, which formed the basis for the Museum of Barbarism.

*** Such broadcasts have also been used for education purposes.

**** See Rosenblatt’s Children of War 

Orientalism in the 21st century: shooting historiographical fish in a barrel

"Jean-Paul Flandrin - Odalisque with Slave - by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres - Walters Art Museum: Home page  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Odalisque with slave by Dominic Ingres (1839)

This week I gave a lecture to 1st year students on western perceptions of the Ottoman Empire, the content and ‘flavour’ of traveller and essayist observations and commentaries from the 16th to the 20th century. A key reading for this was Aslı Çırakman’s book From the “Terror of the World” to the “Sick Man of Europe”, as it offered my students a helpful overview of European views of the Ottomans, but also a critical view of Edward Said’s orientalism thesis.

Other extremely useful readings were Leslie Peirce’s work, as well as other material. Of course the writings of Busbecq, Dumont, Sanderson and others were key. I also showed some rather entertaining depictions of life in the harem as they were imagined by the orientalist movement in 19th c. art.

I like to mix the more philosophical aspects of this issue-such as the consideration of one’s own perceived identity when studying history-with some more light-hearted and entertaining material which often demonstrates perceptions on either side of the divide. For example, I used a clip from Dracula Untold, where the Ottoman troops attempt to take away Vlad Dracul’s son.


This clip is very reminiscent of the Braveheart motif: the valiant/brave versus the totality of evil. Plus it’s good fun.

I also used a montage of Hürrem Sultan’s ‘best of’ from the popular Turkish series The Magnificent Century (Muhteşem Yüzyıl).


There’s also a hilarious sequence at the very end of Conquest 1453 (Fetih 1453) where the grand and fair Mehmed II turns all Obama/Cameron on us (there are English subtitles).


However, by far the most entertaining, and also the most serious demonstration of  simplistic and idiotic prejudice was Niall Ferguson’s take in the documentary series Civilization: is the West history? In Episode 2, Niall falls back onto the most familiar, misogynistic and-quite frankly rather racist-clichés which as historians of the Ottoman Empire we’ve been trying hard to move away from. The ‘Yoko Ono’ phenomenon, which pretty much blamed the collapse of the Empire on the ‘meddling of women’ in men’s affairs, propagated by western and Turkish scholars of the 20th century alike, is repeated here without a hint of self-awareness or shame. Talking about the harem, good old Niall informs us that “it was here that Osman (III) spent his time, stultified with sex and Turkish delight” (3:00 mins).

But this was not the only reason for Ottoman backwardness according to Ferguson. He goes on to compare the ‘neat’ handwriting in a 15th century defter with the ‘sloppy and hasty’ one in a 17th century one, clearly proving that this was “an Empire on the slide” (5:00 mins). This Empire was in a hurry to save itself-there was no time for order. To illustrate the point further, Ferguson’s director/editor contrasts the images of ‘orderly’ modern Germany, with clean-shaven, suited and booted businessmen (?) with images from the streets of modern Istanbul, where some women wear headscarves and some men have mustaches.

This lazy, squarely right-wing and Euro-centric approach is not befitting of someone who has a job at Harvard. Or, quite frankly, someone who has a job as a historian. However, I have to thank Ferguson for his work here, because it makes my job easy. I don’t need to explain much to my (I repeat 1st year) students. At the point where he talks about the Turkish delight, my students start laughing. Job done-thanks Niall.

I know this is TV, but quite frankly, you are an esteemed academic. Get a grip.



Çırakman, Aslı, From the “terror of the World” to the “sick Man of Europe”: European Images of Ottoman Empire and Society from the Sixteenth Century to the Nineteenth (New York: Peter Lang, 2002)

Peirce, Leslie, The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire (Oxford: OUP, 1993)

Jean-Paul Flandrin – Odalisque with Slave – by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres – Walters Art Museum: Home page  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –


All media used here are the property of their respective owners and is used to illustrate an academic point as ‘fair usage’. There is no intention of copyright violation.