Teaching: on the front line

June 13, 2003

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

Name: Maggie Gordon

Age: 58

Job: Senior lecturer in graphic/typographic design and year tutor at Kingston University

Salary: £20,964

Qualifications: National Diploma in Design (London College of Printing); MDes in graphic communication (Edinburgh College of Art/Heriot-Watt University).

Experience: I gained a tough practical training in the studios of London publishing houses and through freelance commissions. But it was the memory of an exacting tutor that inspired me to teach. I have taught part time, full time, undergraduate, postgraduate, in England and in Scotland. I have held academic and managerial posts in a spectrum of subjects across the visual arts.

I like practising what I preach, so I keep up to date by maintaining a freelance practice and design consultancy with my husband. I also make a point of attending courses in graphic arts computing.

Hours spent teaching: I left management more than six years ago to pursue my own work and escape the endless meetings and paperwork. But I was tempted back into teaching, with the proviso that I worked only on the shop floor.

Hours spent on red tape: Half a day out of my three-day week. As I'd rather be working with students, I timetable myself to fit admin into my own time when possible. I deal with meetings and the year group day to day, but try to keep everything else away from my teaching time.

Teaching bugbears: The illusion that information technology can solve the delivery of a good art and design degree education to ever-increasing numbers of students.

This stems from optimistic, fashionable thinking and a regrettable ignorance of integrated resourcing. The government does not appreciate that, whatever an individual's aspirations, they must be matched by ability.

My other bugbear is the way administration is suffocating teaching.

How would you solve them:

* Keep the interviewing system for art and design degree courses

* Educate people to regard the vocational education experience as equally valuable as the academic

* Recognise individual ability and don't be afraid to direct it to where it can flourish rather than to where it meets targets

* Maintain a realistic staff-to-student ratio for studio-based courses.

Teaching tips: Teach students to think; let passion for your subject drive your delivery; raise social, cultural, political and environmental awareness; encourage students to bring their individual ambition, interests, cultural and background experiences to their work.

I value the group critique element of my job very highly. It nurtures objective evaluation between tutors, students and their peers.

You need 100 per cent commitment to the job, 24/7. Always be positive but candid. If I ever felt that I was not learning something myself from my teaching, I would really begin to worry.

Outside interests: Language and communication, including working with the profoundly deaf to get across the feel of sound through the use of expressive typography.

Career high points: Learning sign language and writing My Island , a biography of a profoundly deaf colleague who became a successful graphic and exhibition designer, as well as the first-ever deaf student at Kingston.

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