Teaching: on the front line

March 12, 2004

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

Name : Jerry Wellington

Age : 54

Job : Professor in the School of Education, Sheffield University.

Salary : About £42,000

Qualifications : BA in physics and philosophy (Bristol); PGCE (London); MA philosophy of education (London); PhD in education (Sheffield).

Experience : I started teaching in the 1970s in London comprehensives. After doing a higher degree, I was offered a job at Sheffield teaching trainee teachers and postgraduates. I now head our research degrees programmes and teach on our masters and doctoral courses.

Hours spent teaching : About 300 hours a year, but more if you add online tutorials to overseas students, marking and feedback. I supervise students in Hong Kong, Singapore and the Caribbean. I've got more involved in teaching research methods and methodology. Everyone needs some grounding.

Hours on red tape : I try not to think about the hours, it drives me to drink.

Hours on research : Who knows? When you are walking to work or lying in the bath ideas come. Some famous scientists had their best ideas when they were asleep, but I'm not sure if this would count in the research assessment exercise. My main area is still science education.

Bugbear? Language. A Libyan student asked me to write something and when I gave it to him, I said: "Bob's your uncle." He had no idea what I meant.

And, again, when I wrote a book that was translated into Korean the translator kept emailing me asking things such as "what are horses for courses?" We say some strange things in English. I wouldn't want to lose them. International students like learning idioms and metaphors, but we must give them space to query our language.

Worst teaching moments? Students, often mature, who launch into long monologues in group discussion with no regard for peers and how much time they are taking up.

Dislikes : People who scatter conversation and assignments with words such as "epistemology", "relativism" and "ontology" without knowing their meaning.

Best? Reading good assignments and listening to students. You often see good new references and hear ideas that are researchable. I call it teaching-led research.

Funniest? Students voting me rear of the year.

Teaching tips : Enjoy teaching and treat it as your learning experience, too. Be polite but blunt. If people come out with an argument or use language that doesn't make sense, tell them, instead of patronisingly saying "yes, very interesting".

Outside interests : Football - I still play - novels and keeping fit.

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