Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Training teachers in Higher Education

There is much that I agree with in Jonathan Wolff's article in Education Guardian today regarding training teachers in HE.

Maybe I have been lucky, but I rarely had poor lecturers, or poor lectures. Some disinterested me in much the same way that any broad ranging course might (unless you are continually blessed with great lecturers you are unlikely to be charmed by every single topic by every single teacher) but I can't honestly recall any really duff ones. Or even bad tragi-comedy ones like Wolff describes. I do recall vividly a lot of really cracking lectures full of verve and humour and intelligent debates stirred amongst the students. And I recall lecturers whom I loved with a deep and abiding fondness. Several of these I am still in contact with, and each time I meet them or hear of them I feel thrilled that they not only taught me but inspired me to try and emulate them.

Anyway, Wolff ends with the following remarks:
Could these difficult initial years be eliminated? Virtually all universities are now attempting to train new lecturers. From the outside this must look very sensible and welcome. Yet barely anyone claims to having profited from it. Why should this be? Is the training uniformly useless throughout the sector? This would be an astonishingly shameful weakness in institutions whose whole raison d'être, after all, is to teach. Perhaps people with PhDs simply hate the idea of being trained. It is said that the sessions are much more successful if billed as "pooling of experience" rather than "training".

But the underlying problem is probably something else. A new academic is normally employed to fill a teaching and administrative hole left by someone else, and it is very hard to get up to speed, especially while also pushing forward with research. Working absolutely flat out, with no time for the things they really want to do - such as research, and course development - training is just an additional, unwelcome, burden. Unless it is accompanied by a serious re-assessment of the workload of early career lecturers it is bound to be resented, whatever its quality.
I think he's missing something; something he only alludes to in his final paragraph. And that is that whatever he may THINK HE is about, teaching is scarcely the raison d'être at all. I'm sad to say I have heard far too often claims that teaching is something 'anyone can do' (which patently, at least if it is to be done well, it darn well is NOT). As I say, he alludes to the issue in his final paragraph in terms of training but I think it goes deeper than that. Teaching itself is what is undervalued, so it is scarcely surprising that the training to support and inculcate good practice has to be squeezed in on top of innumerable administrative tasks, let alone the all-important series of (unread) publications demanding to be produced.

1 comment:

holyhoses Rob said...

Hear, and indeed, hear.