Teaching: on the front line

February 28, 2003

Name: Ruth Helyer Age: 43

Job: Part-time lecturer in English, cultural studies and lifelong learning at Teesside and Newcastle universities.

Salary: £30 an hour - part time and £12,500 for half-time post.

Qualifications: BA English (Teesside); MA 20th-century English and American literature and film; PhD in English (Newcastle upon Tyne). PGCE in teaching and learning in higher education (Teesside).

Experience: After sixth form, I went into a well-paid but unfulfilling banking job until I had children. When they were small, I enrolled at Teesside, where I got a first. I took an MA at Newcastle and began lecturing. I remember sitting in an MA tutorial, drinking coffee and debating with six other students. I looked at the tutor, who was obviously enjoying himself, and thought: "He gets paid for this."

I have since discovered that that is rare. There are huge numbers of tutors like me, struggling to make a "living" by taking on too many hours in differing areas of their subject and usually at several different institutions.

Hours spent on teaching: About 18 a week.

Hours on research: Very little, I know I need to build up a stronger research profile to be seriously considered for the full-time posts.

Frustratingly, my time is filled up with marking and preparation.

Hours on red tape: Too many - working in different departments and even different universities means that I have admin tasks for each job.

Teaching bugbear: Part-timers often cover for colleagues on sabbaticals. You have to get up to speed with someone else's research area fast. As a part-timer, I often find myself teaching modules outside of my particular interests/ strengths.

How would you solve it? You need to be in a position to write and deliver your own modules. I did this last semester at Newcastle.

Teaching pleasure: The astute comments made by students amaze me. Some of my best research ideas have come from seminars.

Career high points: Getting great qualifications despite having a busy family life, not much financial back-up and being very ill in the early 1990s.

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