Teaching: on the front line

April 16, 2004

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

Name : Patience Schell

Age : 34

Job : Lecturer in Latin American cultural studies, department of Spanish and Portuguese studies, Manchester University.

Salary : about £26,000

Qualifications : BA history (University of California, Berkeley), master of studies and DPhil in modern history (Oxford).

Experience : I've been fascinated by Latin American history since I was a child: family trips to old California missions are a likely culprit. I came from the US to study in England, and stayed on because I enjoyed living here and also because this is where I found my first academic job. My only formal training has been a lecturer training course at the university. The course throws together everyone from physicists to urban planners to talk about being a personal tutor, assessment and how to link research to teaching. I'd already been teaching a year at Manchester. My best training has come from my mother, who is a primary school teacher.

Hours spent teaching : 4.5 hours a week. I'm on reduced hours because I'm still on probation and because I have a grant that buys out part of my time.

Hours on red tape : Feels like the rest of the week, although being on probation initially protected me from heavy administrative responsibilities.

Hours on research : Fridays during term time but it keeps getting pushed to weekends.

Teaching bugbear : Students who focus only on examinations without having intellectual curiosity.

How do you solve it? Link teaching to current events and/or emphasise quirky moments in history to catch their interest.

Worst teaching moment? In my first year, having most of a class walk out because they hadn't read a play we were studying. When one student suggested that my second attempt to summarise a plot was a waste of time, I mistakenly said that those who thought so should leave. Never again will I give them that choice.

Funniest : Wearing Mexican national dress when I was lecturing on national symbols. The problem was that the sequins on the skirt kept getting tangled with the buckles on my shoes, with other sequins and the fringe on my shawl. I spent most of my time untangling myself with one hand while trying to continue the lecture from the notes in my other hand.

My history teaching tip : Use newspaper articles with a historical angle to remind students that history isn't about dead issues but about the world today.

Outside interests : Walks in the Peak District because, coming from San Francisco, I miss hills. Playing the trumpet, salsa dancing and learning French.

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