Teaching: on the front line

June 25, 2004

What is your experience of teaching?

Name :Suanne Gibson
Age : 31

Job : Lecturer on disability and inclusion since 2001, and director of BA education studies programme since 2003, Plymouth University Salary: Pounds 25,894 Qualifications: BA political science, Queen's University, Belfast; MPhil Russian and East European studies, Glasgow University; PGCE secondary history, Green College, Oxford; PhD education management of inclusive education, Oxford Brookes University.

Experience : Voluntary instructor with cross-community groups in Enniskillen, 1989-92; student co-coordinator of Student Community Action youth work projects in Belfast, 1992-95; youth work as part of the Salesian volunteers scheme, Edinburgh, 1996; volunteer with Faith and Light, an international community of abled and disabled people, Lisnaskea and Exmouth, 1984-2004; founder and manager of inclusive education special interest group at British Educational Research Association, 2002-present.

Hours spent teaching : 500 a year.

Hours on red tape : 100 a year officially, but it's more.

Hours on research : As many as I can manage. Recently I got funding for a "semi-sabbatical" to work on my book, Managing Special Educational Needs in Primary and Secondary Schools , due for submission with Sage in August.

Teaching bugbear this past year : Problems in managing student conflict arising from group-work activities in "Values and attitudes" education studies module.

How did you solve it? Listened to the students, let them release some steam, suggested other ways of working together, and then advised them to meet for a drink and see if they could move on. I also suggested they read an article by H. Rosenthal in Educational Psychology in Practice (2001), which sets out the nature of difference, how we are all individuals forming a community and how conflict and tension is an inherent aspect of this.

Worst teaching moment? Trying to use PowerPoint and video material in front of 40 third- and second-year students while realising that I'd left my notes at home!

Best or funniest? In a first-year role play, I played a "struggling" school official trying unsuccessfully to dissuade a local education authority from placing a child with additional learning needs in mainstream education. My students told me I should consider a career in Hollywood.

Teaching tip? Always listen intently to colleagues and students. Never assume you know everything. Be open to learn from your students' insights.

Most important, thank God every day for the joys of being in education, being a part of a learning community and a feature in many lives.

Outside interests : Hill walking and rock climbing (learning again!)

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