Teaching: on the front line

October 17, 2003

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

Name : Guglielmo Volpe

Age : 38

Job : Senior lecturer in economics, London Metropolitan University.

Salary : about £24,000 (net)

Qualifications : Laura in political economy (Trento University, Italy); MSc in economics (Glasgow); PhD in economics (Dundee).

Experience : I was brought up in a small town called Appiano near Bolzano in northern Italy. I studied political economy part time as I worked as a supply teacher and then a regular teacher in information technology in secondary school.

My dream was to work in academia. With the help of a scholarship, I studied at Glasgow University. What a shock - the weather, the food!

I moved to London in 1998 and completed a postgraduate diploma in teaching and learning in higher education at North London University, where I started my academic career.

Hours spent teaching : about ten to 12 a week.

Hours on red tape : In the past three to four years I have been involved in a Quality Assurance Agency visit, programme leadership, a revalidation of all our undergraduate provision, a merger and now another revalidation.

Hours on research : Not as many as I would like. I have two main areas of interest: economic growth theory with particular reference to education, financial development and income distribution; and research on the pedagogical approaches to the teaching of economics.

Teaching bugbear : I teach mainly business students and a smaller number of students majoring in economics. Their education backgrounds are not the strongest. Economics is perceived as difficult, technical and dry. A "standard" approach to teaching can lead students to disengage very quickly.

How would you solve it? I try to make the students comfortable about the module and to make them understand that we care about them. Websites are used to provide support and additional learning material. Lecture notes and solutions to seminar problems are provided. Self-tests and discussion boards are available.

I try to use alternative approaches to teaching: case studies, students'

input into lectures, discussion groups. I search for alternative ways of conveying what seems very complicated. I focus on higher-order skills of analysis and synthesis rather than just on simple basic knowledge. I try to be innovative without compromising standards.

Worst teaching moment? In 1998. I had just joined North London University.

I was asked to teach first-year introductory economics to more than 100 first-years. In week two, I was observed by a tutor from the education department as part of my postgraduate course in teaching and learning in higher education. Midway through the lecture two students started arguing - a boy and a girl. He stood up and slapped her. She ran out of the class and returned with security. The boy was escorted out of the room. Everything happened very quickly. I just continued with the lecture - horrible.

Best teaching moment? In 2003, at the end of the academic year. A final-year student came to say goodbye. She gave me a small packet - The Dalai Lama's Book of Wisdom . One page was book-marked. I read it: "In education, it is my experience that those lessons which we learn from teachers who are not just good, but who also show affection for the students, go deep into our minds. Lessons from other sorts of teachers may not."

Affection is the extra "ingredient" I try to put in my teaching. The fact that the student found this quotation and thought of me made my day.

Outside Interests: Mountain walking and swimming, football, classical and jazz music and cooking. Good conversation with friends around a table full of food.

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