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I started teaching as a part-time hourly paid lecturer in September at quite a prestigious school. I had no classroom experience and had just returned from a long break off career with depression (even did bar work to get back on feet). I am completely over depression and a new person (in early 30s and more confident).

It was also a return to a subject I had not done properly for 10 years but had conducted research in a different area when working (and in the 9 months preceding teaching). I did desperately want to go back to the subject though having done very well at it when younger.

The university was short staffed so gave me 8 groups (118 students) to teach and also the chance to lecture in a subject I have never studied before (the lectures being masters level!) I had to design my own lectures - this was all hourly paid.

I taught the first 2 cycles of classes (16 2 hour lessons) without meeting the course leader for any guidance nor even introduction/welcome. I was just emailed handouts with the questions on.

I was neither issued a contract for the first month (written one) and asked to work without one on grounds I'd be paid later due to admin delay (I was paid!!). Due to this I had no library access, ID card, printing nor login to university facilities. This made it hard to teach.

I was there 2 months and taught 5 cycles of seminars to 8 groups (a lot of teaching). Also delivered lectures in the subject I have never studied (and they didn't give me a textbook for this and I had to borrow one off a friend).In the meanwhile I got a full time job at a less prestigious university (usually lucky given hard job market and timeout).

I felt like my teaching was always very good in the second week (last 4 groups) of the circle, but the first two groups it went badly and I learnt from teaching the first groups and remembered more knowledge as I went on (noticed more what questions needed). Most the students never prepared either which did not help.

When I said I was leaving some groups said 'you cannot, why?' and I received a few thank you emails when I left.

I logged into my uni email today (not cut off yet and I needed to access it to write a student a reference). I saw an email sent to all students on the courses saying 'all' my lessons would be repeated and taught again by the other two (more experienced staff) apart from one of them with the polite note 'for obvious reasons as discussed with you all in the last lecture'.. This lesson was my strongest for sure.

I've just found out basically my teaching was considered so crap they are teaching everyone again, but worse of all they didn't warn me - if my first lessons were awful, then complaints will have been made earlier.

This didn't happen overnight so I am embarrassed nobody said anything to me so I could try and resolve it or just step in and help me (easier than reteaching everyone).

Some students really did like my class although it was hard returning after time out.

I am worried about my reputation. Obviously I won't apply for a job there in future and I had no awareness that things had come to this and feel I should have been warned or told. They must have been discussing me (negatively) with a large group of students.

  • 2
    That's a tough one but I've been on the side of having to re-teach for an inexperienced teacher. These things seem like they will follow you around but someone they never seem to (in your case the university seems quite complicit in the problem). I would worry now about moving forward and focusing on your new job, seriously doubt you'll hear about this again. – Dave Kanter Jan 10 '17 at 22:06
  • Thanks I am receiving proper training in this new role and a mentor. It was like I did not exist and was hourly paid labour not recognised by the system nor anyone. The subject is highly complex and technical - most people shy from it and many students fail it. My references will now come from new role, plus I taught lightly at another less prestigious institution (at same time) and they supported me and gave help. No complaints. – Euroacademia Jan 10 '17 at 22:15
  • On what basis are they claiming your teaching was inadequate? However, it sounds like they've taken responsibility for thrusting you into the situation without appropriate oversight and feedback, so it shouldn't be anything you need to worry about down the road. And, you learned some valuable lessons. – Inde Jan 10 '17 at 22:59
  • No idea. If they are teaching the students again it cannot have been good. My own view is that my teaching could be off in the first week (circle) and then I always improved drastically by the second circle. I'd guess most the students I taught 2nd week were happy. Yes valuable lessons. To be honest although people say 'all universities are similar (some people)' I think the materials were jolly hard and much harder than the course I did. That is fine and I feel high standards can be good. It was a difficult course which didn't help matters. – Euroacademia Jan 10 '17 at 23:05
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    Don't pursue this line of inquiry "You should have told me sooner." That is just being defensive. If you genuinely want the negative feedback. Ask them. Just don't ask them defensively. Also, some students review Professors/TAs online on third party websites. Look for that feedback about yourself on those sites (to see if there is even any). – Stephan Branczyk Jan 11 '17 at 3:05
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Consider that it may not have been the quality of your teaching that was the issue.

From your description it sounds as if the course was a shambles (probably best not tell us what university this was). Asking an inexperienced teacher to create 32 hours of Masters-level lectures, from scratch, to a large-ish class, without (from your account) any significant discussion of curriculum or assessment?! And hourly paid? There are circumstances in which each of these would be semi-reasonable, but your account paints a very disappointing picture.

It's quite possible, for example, that the ‘obvious reasons’ are that the course leader/convenor/chair discovered after the fact that you'd omitted to cover a topic that was deemed vital for that course – perhaps the curriculum is constrained by pre-existing assessment or other course dependencies – but which the course leader had never told you about.

The above is of course speculation, but it might be useful for your peace of mind if you can discover if the issue was the quality of your teaching or some other organisational issue. If you are sensitive enough to your teaching, and to its reception, to be able to detect that it improved notably between the first and second cycles, then I would guess that it was at least OK.

Bear in mind, however, that if the real problem was that the course was badly organised, and you badly briefed, then the course leader and their colleagues might be rather sensitive or defensive about it, and you might have to bear that in mind when discussing it. Also, bear in mind the possibility that – unfortunately and very discreditably – the course administration may have dealt with the problem by blaming the conveniently temporary and now-departed teacher: ‘an inexperienced teacher...; I'm sure I told them what to cover...; anyway, they never asked me....’

If anything like that is true, then it seems unlikely to me that there'd be any longer-term comeback to you. It's even possible that they think of you as someone who was placed in an impossible position but still managed to achieve something.

If you only want to find out details, rather than complain, then an informal setting for a chat might be more informative than a multi-person meeting; and if you know any permanent staff who taught on the course, they might be more usefully indiscreet than the course leader.

2

Well, the basic (but difficult) decision to make is if you really want to know the truth. Currently your embarrassment seems to be more an interpretation of events than based on facts and should be seen barely as such.

Once you have decided, you should stick with your decision: If you decide to want to know the truth, approach your former head or one of the other teachers about it and find out what happened. Or wait for a coincidence. It might also work to ask one of the students who appreciated you, at least they might be very open about which "obvious reasons" became apparent in that lecture. On the other hand they might lightheartedly share with everyone that you asked, which might add to your embarrassment. If you decide not to want to know the truth, drop all thoughts of self-doubt and interpretations which lead to embarrassment, as they're just arbitrary guesses about something you just don't know well enough.

I tend you think knowing the truth would be better for you, no matter what it is. Although your interpretation of events would probably give interesting insights into your self-image if you didn't ask.

As I remember university, there are always some students who would complain about you, no matter how well you've been teaching or even all the more if you've been teaching really well. Depending on other circumstances they might easily convince the "more experienced staff" that they need to be taught again, maybe even just out of laziness. Repeating everything could then be a barely political decision by your former head to avoid legal difficulties if some student fails the exam while being able to prove he wasn't taught by a professional. You should also consider the possibility that your former head bent the truth in front of your former students to avoid difficulties for himself, in which case you probably wouldn't be welcomed with open arms when asking about details. It's a delicate issue.

Of course there is also a high probability that your teaching really wasn't world-class at least on the scientific level. Most likely you can't have a lot of experience and in-depth knowledge about the subject and all the interesting details, and teaching master students shouldn't be a piece of cake by definition.

On the other hand, even if it comes to light that nothing was wrong with your teaching, which I still see as a feasible possibility, there would probably be a conclusion you'd make: It's okay to teach a subject if you feel ready for it, even if you've never formally studied it or passed an exam, but your insight into everything should be strong enough to at least rate yourself reliably with regard to how you're doing. "Strong enough" meaning that incidents like these wouldn't trigger a lot of self-doubt.

This is not intended to be a moral sermon. I'm just pointing out that you were obviously taking a risk when you accepted that challenge, and in this very case it seems things might have gone wrong. It's fair, no problem. That's what risks are about. You can take responsibility for it, it's not the end of the world, there were other people who also took that risk after all, it's not your fault alone. You might take the chance of learning something really valuable for your future career if you ask what happened. By doing so, however, you'd be facing another risk too, that is the risk of making things worse. It'd be okay to decide against even trying.

I guess if you feel confident with the things you're teaching now at your current school and you're not genuinely interested in the subject you were giving lectures before, you should move on on that basis. If you feel the thing is making you insecure or affecting your work, you're planning to pull a similar stunt again (and obviously want to avoid former mistakes), or you're really just curious, go and ask.

  • Thanks for your kind comments. There is no way the same thing could happen again. I am on a training programme on what we call in England a post 92 uni. The tasks break you in lightly and you always report to someone. The courses are generally easier too. I taught at a post 92 for 1 hour a week (during teaching that went wrong) and no issues. It has taught me I am perhaps not quite up to a prestigious world leading university. I think I fit the culture of my new place better. They have policies of training people gradually too and starting small. – Euroacademia Jan 13 '17 at 10:15

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