Teaching: on the front line

September 19, 2003

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

Name: Clare Mar-Molinero.

Age: 54

Job: Reader in Spanish and, until August, head of School of Modern Languages, Southampton University.

Salary: About £40,000

Qualifications: BA Spanish and American studies (Birmingham); MAEd language and linguistics in education; PhD in politics of language in the Spanish-speaking world (Southampton).

Experience: Like many modern-language graduates I ended up teaching English abroad, in Barcelona. I started my PhD on my return while teaching Spanish part time at the Southampton Language Centre. I was the classic part-timer/ working mum: I was super-conscientious and overworked.

When I got a "proper" job, I tried to be innovative. I teach sociolinguistics, language policy, multilingualism and so on. Rather than just giving lectures and running seminars/tutorials, I encouraged group work and fieldwork.

I care for a blind elder brother with learning disabilities. I too am visually impaired, but did not tell anyone except my closest friends until I got a permanent contract. To most people, it is neither obvious nor relevant, but it's been a bugbear - how do you manage foreign travel and large conferences, see students' faces and manage intricate information technology?

Hours spent teaching: As head of department, only four or five a week. Before that, usually eight, plus regular dissertation and thesis supervision.

Hours on red tape: Too much. I'd prefer to separate general administration/management from the draining hours spent on quality assurance bureaucracy.

Hours on research: My department is closing as part of the university's restructuring, and I am just starting a two-semester study leave to catch up.

Teaching bugbear: Writing and marking exams, assessment deadlines, plus that awful quality assurance documentation. I do not object to being accountable or having to reflect and interrogate my teaching, but I hate filling out pointless forms and using senseless vocabulary.

How would you solve it? I try never to set exams and have almost succeeded.

There is little you can do about deadlines, but I have become innovative in the assessment tasks I set to achieve the learning outcomes, correction and student feedback in a tight turnaround.

Teaching tips: Get students to take responsibility; give few or no lectures but let them lead seminars; prepare for and guide group work in class and in presentations/ assessment; explain to students that studying is not just about accumulating information but about learning skills and strategies; get students to listen to each other and forget I'm there. A good teacher has a mother-hen instinct. You really care about the students and are curious about them as people.

Outside interests: Music, politics, Southampton Football Club and a decent amount of time in Spanish-speaking communities.

Career high points: Appointment to full permanent lectureship. My readership. Giving plenary papers at significant conferences. Two years as head of department. Getting a 5* in the research assessment exercise.

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