Teaching: on the front line

March 26, 2004

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

Name: Tiffany Atkinson


Lecturer in English and creative writing at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth

Salary: Lecturer grade A (up to £26,000) Qualifications: BA in English (Birmingham); MA and PhD in critical theory (Cardiff)

Experience: My post at Aberystwyth is my first permanent one. I applied for a short-term post here in 2000 but was interviewed for a full-time one because the university was expanding. I was the youngest, least experienced candidate. I'd always wanted to do research and had taught part time. Ideally, there's not much difference between the two because you are passing on your love of a subject. I get quite fired up about teaching poetry and literary theory, especially poststructuralism.

Hours spent teaching: About eight to ten hours a week. I'm departmental careers adviser and I flag up how English gives students a range of employment skills. I invite people from the careers office to run workshops on presentations, cv-writing and so on. The service runs an annual student skills competition in which student teams from different departments give a presentation and run an exhibition stand. This year's was last week, and the English team won. It was a triumph. English gets a bad press and can be seen as a "flabby" subject with little practical application. Our team of students wrote a witty in-flight air-hostess sketch. I was their mentor but they did not need much prompting. Their PowerPoint presentation skills are much better than mine.

Hours on red tape: Maybe I'm slow, but it feels equal to time spent teaching.

Hours on research: Ideally one day a week, but if term is busy, it gets pushed to weekends. I write poetry and research poetics, critical theory and theories of the body.

Teaching bugbear: Long silences in seminars.

How do you solve it? Sometimes I walk out and leave them to it. I go and photocopy for a couple of minutes. Other times we joke about it, or I split them into groups.

Worst teaching moment? As a postgraduate I had to synchronise a videotape with a senior lecturer's presentation. She'd cued it on her machine at home but it was out of time on the university equipment. She threw the video case at me.

Funniest? When new groups don't recognise I'm a tutor and say things they might later regret. Someone once said: "Apparently this Tiffany what's-her-name writes really rude poetry." They must have been rather disappointed.

My teaching tip? Encourage students to go out on a limb in their writing. If they are too safe, it deadens things.

Outside interests: Jogging, percussion and reading, writing or listening to poetry.

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