Teaching: on the front line

May 14, 2004

What is your experience of teaching? Stuart Campbell asks teachers how they manage.

Name : James Agar

Age : 32

Job : Lecturer in French and comparative literature at University College London.

Salary : £,339

Qualifications : BA hons (I) French and Spanish (London, UCL); MA European languages and culture (Manchester University).

Experience : After my PhD research, I worked as lecturer in French at Aberdeen University for two years before returning to UCL in 1999. I completed an extensive portfolio of staff training courses for new lecturers at both institutions.

Hours spent teaching : Between five and 12 hours a week, depending on when I am teaching or lecturing on team-taught courses in addition to my own weekly classes. I also have two consultation hours each week when students can see me without an appointment.

Hours on red tape : Each teaching hour equates to about another two to three hours of additional work, whether it be preparation or marking or both.

Time spent on additional duties - meetings, interviews, reading and writing documents and so on - is very bothersome but seems unavoidable these days.

Hours on research : Never enough. It is difficult in the normal academic session to devote time to sustained research.

Teaching bugbear : The confusion and disruption surrounding the necessary Association of University Teachers' industrial action this session. Loss of time has meant that some classes could not be rescheduled, and marking deadlines have been even more difficult to adhere to.

How did you address it? In the short term, I distributed lecture notes and bibliographical guidance for missed lectures and rescheduled seminar meetings. I am also striving to keep as close as possible to marking deadlines. In the long term, I cannot solve the problems and issues that resulted in industrial action being adopted.

Worst teaching moment : The first 15 minutes of my first formal lecture. I was absolutely terrified and thought the next 35 minutes would last a lifetime.

Best teaching moment : The last 35 minutes of my first formal lecture. They flew by, and I couldn't believe at the end what a buzz it is when you think you've been able to inform and entertain a large group of intelligent people about a subject of shared interest.

More generally , the best thing about teaching is learning from and with the people you are helping to learn. Good evaluation questionnaires are gratifying, and the occasional negative one is a great leveller.

Teaching tip : Remember that teaching and learning should be enjoyable while also challenging and difficult - and enjoyable because they are challenging and difficult.

Outside interests : Cricket, travel and cabaret.

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