Fellows: on the front line

January 30, 2004

What is your experience of teaching? Pat Leon asks teachers how they manage.

Name : Amanda Chetwynd

Age : 47

Job : Professor of mathematics and statistics and director of undergraduate studies, Lancaster University.

Qualifications : BSc and MSc (Nottingham); PhD (Open University)

Experience : After my MSc, I was looking for temporary work. I was overqualified to be an electricity meter reader, but my second interview was at a high school desperate for a maths teacher as the incumbent had just had a heart attack. I started the next day. The following year I began my PhD full time at the OU where I learnt a lot and taught at summer schools. I later worked on course teams, writing material for maths courses. The OU's concern for careful explanations and examples to illustrate abstract concepts has stayed with me.

Hours spent teaching : About 30 per cent of my time. Mathematics and statistics are such essential subjects that I work hard to enthuse students. I do this through master classes for schools, undergraduate classes and by chairing a national mathematics promotion unit.

Hours on red tape : None - most of the administration and management is worthwhile, but you have to be creative with external quality audits to make them so.

Hours on research : About 40 per cent of my time. My research was initially in graph theory but I have moved on to spatial and medical statistics. It is much easier to explain to non-specialists what I spend my time doing.

Teaching bugbear : Lack of equipment. Once I had to to ask the teaching quality assessor to hold down the projector film down so it wouldn't roll up during the overhead projector presentation.

How was it solved? I lobbied to get all the lecture and seminar rooms upgraded. They now have modern and well-maintained equipment.

My maths teaching tip : When proving a result to undergraduates, try to start with an example and talk through an outline of the proof before giving the detailed proof.

Worst teaching moment : Realising in the middle of a research seminar I was giving that there was a mistake in the logical argument of one of my proofs - luckily the audience didn't spot the flaw and I put it right on the train journey home.

Best teaching moment : A student writing a poem about my graph theory class, and winning the fourth national teaching fellowship for Lancaster in a row.

Funniest teaching moment : When school teaching, a colleague gave me a lift home. I offered him tea and was mildly surprised to find him stark naked when I returned to the sitting room with the cup.

Outside interests : Learning to play the saxophone. Having fun with the family.

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