Tag Archives: teaching

Radio silence

My poor neglected blog! Apologies (to my one remaining reader) for radio silence, it’s not that nothing’s been happening, just that work etc has been busy busy busy so nothing interesting is happening 🙂

Work is going well, I’m really enjoying it, but it is very full on (which is good) and I’ve had to do a fair few evening interviews recently. What is good is that I am building enough time in lieu to be able to leave an hour early a few times a week and go to the gym; this and the diet is (generally) going well and I only have another few pounds to go and I’ll have lost a stone from when I was at my heaviest earlier this year. So that’s good.

My two OU courses have started up again, so that’s all extra work, and they have asked me to consider taking on another one, just for one year while the regular tutor has a sabbatical, starting in February 2013. Good points would be: level 3 and public health course would look great on my CV, even if it is only a year; the money would be welcome of course; the course is interesting; and because it runs from Feb-Oct and my other courses are Oct-June it means that I would still have a bit of extra money coming in over the summer (I know I have my job so it’s not like I’m not paid at all for those three months, but I do notice each summer when I don’t get paid for the OU work). Less good points would be: I’m working full-time and doing two OU courses on top of that, and there would be 5 months where this one would overlap with those; I’m knackered and would like to have a bit of a life despite loving what I’m doing. I’m not sure which way I’ll choose yet – but anyway it was nice to be asked, it was a little bit of affirmation which never goes amiss.

I now have the week off work, but will mainly be trying to write an article (I have signed up to #acwrimo or academic writing month on twitter, to try and get myself into gear for getting myself published; this is really important to me both professionally and personally). So I’ll probably be going back to work for a break! But anyway it *is* nice to not have to get up at 6am and deal with Scotrail for a few days, and I will make sure I go out for a good brisk walk each day, weather permitting.

Teaching/lecturing/research – random thoughts (not necessarily in any order, or making any sense!)

A couple of blog posts ago, mountainsnowtiger left a long comment which I thought was worth highlighting and thinking about a bit. She (sorry if you’re a bloke by the way mst, I just always imagine you as a girl!) said:

Is there any solution to the fact that unis need to teach little students general info as well as letting big clever people do important academic stuff they’re passionate about?

(I ask this because your post comes a couple of weeks after I listened to two of my fellow students discussing a particular academic who works at the (fairly high-ranking) uni I’ve now ended up at. The academic in question is a scientist. It used to be the case that the final year undergrad students could choose between this guy’s course and various other courses and on their exams they could choose whether or not to answer a question in this guy’s subject area. The result was that this guy got no people attending his undergrad courses and no people answering his exam qus, hence his colleagues ended up with far more than their fair share of undergrad teaching and marking to do. The rumours are that this year the undergrad finalists will be forced to take at least one course by him and to answer at least one of his exam qus. Apparently every year students’ feedback forms say that this guy’s undergrad teaching is truly appalling and every year he gets told to sort it out. But the uni can’t actually do anything when he doesn’t sort it out (year after year), because his research is in some area which means he personally attracts an e-nor-mous pot of funding for his department, so they’re never going to get rid of him no matter how naff his undergrad teaching is. Obviously, that’s a story about one person needlessly being a complete PITA for his colleagues and students, but it seems like it’s symptomatic of the more general issue, which is that people enthused enough to be researching stuff get really bored and fed-up teaching the basics to undergrad students. Is there any solution?)

The short, sitting-on-the-fence answer is I don’t know (!). It is a problem – obviously this is an extreme example, but I can well believe it’s not the only example of this sort of thing going on. Being a head-of-department/head-of-faculty must be a nightmare for precisely this reason. I wonder if the solution would be a kind of two-tier system – having some academics who just do research/money-making stuff (we have one in my dept who brings in shedloads of money, and he does hardly any teaching at all, even though he’s actually not a bad teacher like the guy in mst’s example), and others who do a combination of research and teaching, and actually have them on different wage scales and contracts. It is a huge minefield, but I’m thinking about what happened a few years back in the NHS, when they introduced Agenda for Change – where all jobs were basically measured against a set of criteria, with the aim of introducing equal pay for equivalent work. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but I think that it is something that could – maybe – be considered in academia.

One of the reasons I don’t much enjoy the teaching I’m doing at the moment is that I honestly don’t think I’m that good at it (that was the reason I didn’t enjoy teaching English as a Foreign Language years ago as well). And I think that that’s not fair on my students. Actually I do get good feedback from them, so I think there is quite a big element of beating-self-up/being too hard on myself, etc, but for me I’m aware that it’s not just about me me me, and that for the students their own learning is important too, so it’s important for them that their tutors/lecturers are committed to the learning and development of their students as well as to their own research. That’s why I’m not intending to apply for a straight academic lecturing post in a high-ranking university when I finish my PhD – I would definitely consider doing so if it was just pure research with minimal teaching, but I just know that I would feel like I was resenting the students for taking me away from the stuff I love doing (ie the research). And that’s not fair on them.

That’s not to say that I wouldn’t teach ever again. I’ve always said I’d like to do some tutoring with the Open University (I did my masters degree with them), and recently I’ve started toying with the idea of teaching on nursing courses (something I said I’d never do!). In much of my nurse (and HV) training the standard of teaching wasn’t that great, but when I think about the stuff I’m interested in – sociology, research, ethics, amongst other things – those are subjects I could get enthused about passing on to students, and teach well. And it would also provide me with an academic home from which I could continue to do research as well, but with teaching that I enjoy rather than teaching that I resent.

Going back to mst’s situation – as I’ve got off the subject and started talking about myself again (!) – I’m not sure of the way round a) making the guy’s teaching a better experience for his undergrads and b) making the burden of marking between different courses and lecturers fairer. It sounds like by making the guy’s course compulsory the dept is trying to at least solve problem b) up to a point, but it does nothing to solve a). And when the money his research is bringing in is probably paying the salaries of his colleagues, there’s probably only so much they can do. Here’s a question for the academics here – are there any journals dedicated to further/higher education management issues? In the NHS there’s the Health Service Journal (I think that’s what it’s called) which is a bit newsy but which covered all the various thorny health service management debates. I ask as I’m sure the issue of poor teaching/great research with $$$ will have been raised over time immemorial, and surely there must be lots of suggestions and debates on how to approach this.

I think that in my dept *I* am the solution to problem b)!! Essay questions are set by a number of lecturers, but there are always one or two questions which nearly everybody goes for, which means that before I was employed, the lecturer that set those questions had tons of essays to mark while the others maybe only had a handful. Now they’ve got me, I just mark the lot – problem solved (except for me!). I actually think it is better for the students, in that having spoken with the lecturers who set the questions about their expectations I realised that some leant much more to being generous with their marks than others, whereas with me doing all of them they get consistent marking whichever question is chosen. However – the course I tutor on is the level 1 (1st year) course so doesn’t count towards the degree – by the time you get to final year getting the department GTA (graduate teaching assistant) to do this is out of the question. And (without wanting to sound too modest) I think my dept has been very lucky with me, as I’ve got enough nous and life experience and common sense to deal with the crap and work out ways of dealing with it which will make it easier for the next GTA who starts next year. I just need to work out the best way of selling what has been a bit of a crap experience into CV-worthy impressiveness that would make me an ideal employee for when I start applying for jobs again 🙂

Tuesday

I think I’ve figured out why I like this year’s students. It’s because there’s nobody who has hit my radar yet that I feel I would need to brace myself to teach them. In previous years there were usually one or two who, right from the beginning, for whatever reason, had an attitude that I just didn’t gel with. I remember one who was a real ‘flouncer’ – she would flounce into tutorials, proceed to make them all about her (she had family links to the subject, so had some really interesting things to say sometimes, but was so OTT it was really stressful and disruptive). Another was very sarcastic about the course, was doing it as a last resort option and wasn’t remotely interested (though, irritatingly, was very good at it). So he did the work, participated in classes with intelligent contributions yet in such a sarcastic and belittling way that the entire group was affected, and I found it really difficult to manage. This year, so far, I haven’t come across anyone like that, and it’s just such a relief. I can cope (at the moment) with not-brilliant students, as long as they make an effort (which they seem to be doing, so far) and don’t exude that whole “I don’t need to be here” superior aura thing.

Thanks for comments on yesterday’s post. I know it’s what it’s all about, and yes I can usually muster up something to get enthusiastic about (with the exception of the role-play tutorial, which I loathe with a passion and always will). If in the course of the discussion I see a connection I hadn’t noticed before or otherwise have some sort of lightbulb moment, that’s satisfying and I think I can put that across. If one of the students says something analytical rather than descriptive, and show that they really do *get* it, it’s still really rewarding. But, none of that will stop me from feeling sick on Monday nights and not wanting to teach on Tuesdays. I think it’s a Pavlov’s dog thing – when I realise it’s the night before teaching, I get an automatic response. It doesn’t matter how irrational it is, I’ve been doing it for long enough now that it seems to be hard-wired! Anyway – I will pick up on a couple of the comments in a separate post some time – but not now, the teaching has worn me out! 😉

Monday night

I know I said last week that I liked my students this year (so far), but that hasn’t stopped the Monday night “I feel sick and I don’t wanna!” feeling that I always get before Tuesdays (teaching day). Bah.

I realised today as I was doing the reading (rather half-heartedly, it has to be said) for tomorrow’s tutorials, that a lot of my tutorial teaching is a big act. A big act that I know all the stuff (which I do, but I’m no expert and I know it), and, right now, a big act that I’m even vaguely interested in it. A big act that I’m not resentful about the time it’s taking away from the work that I do want to do.

I’m tired of acting. When I’m talking about my own research, I get animated and ranty and interested and funny and passionate and heated. When I’m doing the tutorials, I just don’t want to do it, and it’s getting harder and more tiring to pretend that I’m not bored silly with it.

Caffeine and cake

Today I have been very busy getting not much done. I moved upstairs to my new office (and got cross with the person who has moved into my old desk – he has been circling the room like a vulture for months angling to move in and I hadn’t even totally cleared my desk before it was covered in his stuff!). This afternoon I went for caffeine and cake with the girl who has been at the next desk to me for the last year – she submitted today! We were all very excited, though I think for her it was all a bit of an anti-climax. With any luck this will be me this time next year. Then this evening I went for caffeine and cake (hmm, theme emerging here!) with another friend, from my book group (that I can’t go to later this week as I’ll be at the wrong end of the country). She is also doing a PhD, so I’m afraid we talked about that a lot too. So it’s been kind of a PhD-full day, but without necessarily having done very much!

Tomorrow the first tutorials of the year start. Regular readers will no doubt be totally unsurprised at my current feelings of utter lack of enthusiasm, tinged with feeling slightly sick. Welcome to Monday nights for the next 2 terms!

Bonkers

Today has been one of *those* days. To cut a (very long) story short, it was supposed to involve HD catching an early train down south to a job interview, but in fact involved missed trains, me driving him to the station in my nightshirt without an A-Z, out-of-order ticket machines, hastily rearranged interviews, another cancelled train, a frantic bus journey, and a discovery that the national rail timetable on the internet claimed there was a train to DownSouth that he could catch but actually they were making that up.

So that was HD’s day up until 10am! The rest of the day has calmed down a bit, but we could have done without the excitement! I am more and more convinced every day that the soundtrack to our life will be the theme tune to the Benny Hill Show.

I had supervision today. I bumped into one of my supervisors a few hours before our meeting, and she looked at me rabbit-in-headlights-like and said “I wasn’t supposed to be reading anything for this was I?” To which my equally rabbit-in-headlights-like response was “You weren’t expecting me to write anything for this were you?” So yeah – it didn’t really set the world on fire, as supervision sessions go. But it was OK, considering*.

Tomorrow is the final day of tutorials for this academic year. I can’t even begin to tell you how happy that makes me.

* considering my utter lack of thesis-related work thanks to essays etc.

Essays

They’re marked. Comment sheets all typed up. Those for second marking have gone to the second markers. Apart from the ones where the second markers make changes to my comments and/or mark, that’s the last lot of essays till Christmas. Not only that, but I only have two more weeks of tutorials left and then I will have said goodbye to yet another year of first years (how did that happen? I only got rid of the last lot the other week, or so it seems!), and I won’t have any more teaching to do until October. This is the best time of the year.

Now, can someone please remind me what my thesis is about, because I’m ******ed if I can remember.

This time last year I was counting down to going on fieldwork. That feels like a lifetime ago now.

I don’t like Tuesdays

I know I have written a similar blog entry every last Tuesday in February (or thereabouts) since moving here, but I just need to record that the tutorial from hell (ie the role-play) is over for another year. During a particularly painful bit of it I worked out that I have so far spent 16 hours of my life doing this tutorial, and depending on the number of tutorials I have to do next year that figure will go up to over 20 hours. That’s nearly a whole day that I’m never going to get back. I’m not impressed at all.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, when I got home I was chopping some veg and managed to slice through my thumb. I don’t like Tuesdays.