Teaching: on the front line

February 13, 2004

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

Name : Alison Phipps

Age : 36

Job : Director, Graduate School for Arts and Humanities, University of Glasgow

Salary : £38,000

Qualifications : BA French and German (Durham); PhD German (Sheffield) Background: I'm a trained linguist and anthropologist. The anthropology came during my PhD when I took a do-it-yourself approach to studying open-air community theatre in southern Germany. I wore lots of costumes and basically lived the language. I've always loved teaching, my parents teach and I suppose it's in the blood. And my outside activities have always informed my teaching. I tend to do "guest" courses in different departments, anything from English language teaching to popular German culture and environmentalism.

Hours spent teaching : I measure hours spent on activities such as form-filling, problem-solving, advising, dealing with scholarship applications and chasing forms in terms of energy they give my work - directing/ teaching and researching - and energy they drain.

Hours on red tape : Too frustrating to count. I seem to spend increasing amounts of time filling in forms to give me permission to fill in more forms to enable me to go to meetingland and then I can fill in more forms that may lead to a new course.

Hours on research : An hour a day and, when lucky, a day a week. I just co-authored a modern-languages book and I am finishing another on tourism and intercultural communication, looking at what happens when Germans come to Scotland on holiday.

Teaching bugbears : The endless hours in meetingland and inputting information into computers so that the university can tell the next set of external assessors a bunch of facts that assure the quality of our teaching (research, systems, recruitment, employability or whatever the target in vogue). Our information management system, with its drop-down menus, is killing innovation and creativity. It is getting to the stage that, unless a proposed teaching activity is generic and standardised, it can't be validated.

How would you solve it? External bureaucracy is hungry, so for the time being I close my office door, log on and sing.

Most poignant teaching moment? When I read out in class the third part of Bertolt Brecht's poem To the Next Generation, calling for leniency, understanding, forgiveness. One student began to weep. She was a refugee.

We were appalled that a conflict, still raging, had so powerfully entered our corner of the world.

Oddest? Having a garden gnome do a charity sit-in on a German-language class. It was a perfect example of a compound noun.

Outside interests : Walking in the hills, my allotment, being a member of the Iona Community.

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