Teaching: on the front line

June 6, 2003

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

Name: Joe Kyle Age: 53

Job: Senior lecturer in mathematics, University of Birmingham, and mathematics coordinator, Learning and Teaching Support Network subject centre for maths, statistics and operational research.

Salary: About £40,000

Qualifications: First-class Scottish BSc, English PhD.

Experience: About 30 years. For the first time, I have had my teaching seriously interrupted by illness. So these are more reflections on the front line. I also cannot be quantitative in hours spent teaching, red tape and research.

Teaching bugbears:

(1) The "arithmetisation" of university education with modules, semesters, credits and levels.

(2) E-learning and its attraction to those with pound signs in their eyes.

There are marvellous ways to use information technology with students but there is still a need for human interaction

(3) Fears that we may enter a mathematical Dark Age with ill-informed media sniping about whether we really need mathematics. There is a dearth of decent teachers in schools and disillusionment among those who remain.

How would you solve them? Time may solve the first two but we will not have the third tackled until a serious effort is made to improve the situation in schools.

Teaching tips: I learnt most from watching others. Unfortunately, teaching observation has become formalised into audit trails.

Outside interests: Reading around my subject (as scholarship seems no longer to be part of the job, it comes under this heading). Shuffling around the northern hills pretending to be a fell runner.

Career highpoints: Still to come perhaps. There have been outstanding times but my mind returns to the gesture of thanks from a student of rather modest ability. He showed his appreciation in malt whisky.

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