Teaching: on the front line

December 19, 2003

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

Name : Ian Keirle

Age : 43

Job : Lecturer in countryside management at Aberystwyth University.

Salary : c . £32K

Qualifications : BSc geography (Swansea); MSc countryside recreation resource management (Salford).

Experience : I was a climbing and hill-walking instructor in Snowdonia after my degree before becoming a warden on a sand dune nature reserve for the Nature Conservancy Council. After my masters I worked as an interpretation officer for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and for five years looked after the Cleveland Way in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park.

Hours spent teaching : I am battling to finish marking about 30 scripts from two student assignments before Christmas, even though term ended last Friday. I have about 300 hours contact time a year at degree and higher national diploma level, together with the supervision of dissertations and tutorials. Lots of my time involves visiting students on work placements all over the country.

Hours on red tape : Not too bad, although we are starting a new module next semester and I have to get lecture notes and preparation done over the Christmas break. Most of my admin relates to being course manager for three degree schemes. I also have responsibility for student skills development and implementation of personal development plans.

Hours on research : My department operates a teaching-plus programme whereby some staff do little or no research but have a higher teaching and administration load. I fall into that category. However, I enjoy research and find it helps develop my teaching. I try to publish something each year on how "recreational" visitors behave in the countryside. I'm working on a paper for a conference in Finland in February and have just published a textbook on countryside recreation site management.

Teaching bugbears : First, that it is all but impossible to gain senior lecturer status if your prime function is teaching and administration. This undervalues our role in relation to research-active staff. The lack of a promotion route is demotivating and frustrating. My second gripe is the lack of space in the curriculum for all-day field trips that help students integrate different subjects. Our students need experience, but the complexities of interrelated courses and the modular system make visits of more than three hours difficult to timetable. We have to limit visits to the local area.

How would you solve it? The first one is easy: create two positions of equal status and with equal pay scales - senior lecturer and senior researcher. All-day field visits are a harder nut to crack.

Worst teaching moment : While leading a study tour to Brussels, I took students on the metro to get to the European Parliament. We all got off the train... except one shy young woman who had never travelled abroad and did not know that you push a button to open train doors. I will never forget the look on her face as she disappeared alone into the tunnel. To her credit she found us at the parliament, having undergone rapid personal development.

Best teaching moment : When a team of my HND countryside management students won the annual Aberystwyth University students' skills competition.

Funniest moment : Being hijacked in a lecture by the fire brigade to raise money for Children in Need. The lengths to which students will go to avoid my teaching!

Outside interests : Travelling, mostly with my family, although I am just off to Amsterdam alone for a pre-Christmas treat. Mountains have always attracted me, but a recent introduction to diving has shown me a whole new world.

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