Teaching: on the front line

August 1, 2003

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

Name: Rakesh Bhanot

Age: 52

Job: Senior lecturer in educational development (0.5) in the Centre for Higher Education Development at Coventry University and, recently, carer for 38-year-old Down's syndrome brother, Neelum.

Salary: Pro rata for senior lecturer.

Qualifications: BA philosophy and literature (Warwick); MA in language and literature; PGCE (London); professional examination in German (Cologne).

Experience: I was born in Khat Kar Kalan, Punjab, India, and grew up in Preston, Lancashire. Despite failing my 11 plus, and English language being my "worst" subject at secondary school, I won the Mayor's prize for English literature at Preston Sixth-Form College and went on to study literature.

After university, I taught English as a foreign language in the UK, Germany and Spain. I moved to the now-defunct Inner London Education Authority, where I taught English to speakers of other languages as well as promoting equal opportunities. This was followed by a spell at the Further Education Unit as regional and national project officer responsible for staff development for a multicultural society.

Since 1990, I have worked in higher education, first as a lecturer in staff development and equal opportunities at Luton University and then as programme manager of postgraduate courses in learning and teaching in higher education at Coventry.

I have visited more than 25 countries to deliver courses, seminars, workshops. In 1996-97, I was seconded to work as the European manager and projects coordinator for Public Broadcasting in a Multicultural Society, based in the Netherlands.

Hours spent teaching: Depends on how one defines teaching. In addition to running formal workshops and action learning sets, some of my work can be online support as well as one-to-one help for colleagues who are new to teaching.

Hours on red tape: The boundary line between red tape and what may be just good practice is a bit blurred. Little of what I do is "unnecessary".

Hours on research: Since reducing my contract to a fractional one, probably not enough. However, I am still involved in editing books.

I am particularly interested in investigating issues around pedagogy in different cultural contexts, and the implications of "diversity" for higher education curricula.

Teaching bugbear: Teaching colleagues can be a challenge as some display characteristics they often challenge in their own students.

How would you solve it? Ask them: "If your own students did or said that, what would you do?" That usually does the trick.

Teaching pleasures: Living with Neelum and drawing on 30 years' experience of teaching adults and observing how he is becoming more articulate and assertive since he spends a lot of time with me and my friends - many of whom are work colleagues. He can engage them in long conversations about pop music and football.

In terms of higher education work, it is immensely satisfying when students say, "I'm glad you pushed me because it has been worthwhile."

In one case, a colleague actually said that building the portfolio for the postgraduate certificate in learning and teaching had changed her life.

Teaching tips: Don't be afraid of silences in class - even in lectures.

Judicious use of brief silences, for example, where students are given a task to think about, can lead to more active learning.

Highlights: Co-organising the Staff and Education Development Association/All Ireland Society for Higher Education conference in Dublin in 2002. Being invited to give the keynote address at the tenth Annual Convention of Teachers of English in Venezuela in 1992.

Outside interests: Cooking - but sometimes as with well-prepared lesson plans, things can go wrong. Neelum is also keen on helping in the kitchen and he has been accepted to do a catering course at Henley College of Further Education. I also enjoy scribbling poems and stories, although more for therapeutic reasons than for public consumption.

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