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Teacher Training: Bad Lecturers, I See You

Doing a degree is hard. You’ve got to learn new things quickly, read long texts that are often both complex and poorly written beyond all comprehension, all the while nursing a hangover that’d kill lesser human beings. Lecturers then, can either make things a great deal easier for you, or a great deal harder. The good ones are talked about in reverential terms, toasted to in the Woodville, and drunk-emailed incoherent thanks on graduation day. The bad ones? Not so much.

When you think about it, your relationship at university with your lecturers is generally a weird, strange coexistence. It all starts on your first day, when you realise that you can call them by their first name. You didn’t call teachers at school by their first name unless they were subs, in which case you just called them whatever you wanted anyway. But lecturers aren’t teachers; often they’re the total opposite. You sort of get the feeling that for some lecturers, teaching is an ordeal that they have to endure every term, just so they can continue their research into how and why frogs masturbate or whatever. They’re lecturers in spite of the fact that they have to lecture, rather than because of it.

This can be a bit difficult to comprehend. When you consider that you’re going to have to sell your organs to repay the tuition fees the university ask of you, you’d think it at least reasonable that the university provide you with lecturers that actually enjoy turning up to work. Obviously, this isn’t the case for all of them. Some of them are good, and some of them are great. But it remains frustrating when you come to choose modules, and you choose to forgo a topic that you might enjoy because the person teaching it has no interest in their subject, or you.

Sometimes, I feel that lecturers need a hand in knowing how to appeal to students. Sure, they hand out feedback forms at the end of modules, but students put about as much thought into those as they do into the possibility of liver cirrhosis in later life. No, I feel that lecturers need a broad guide in how to make sure that students feel like they’re getting the most value for money and enjoyment out of their course. Conveniently though, that’s what you’re reading right now.

The first and most important thing you should remember is this: just because you’re a good academic, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a good lecturer. You might be the world’s foremost authority on rectal cancer in dormice, but if you can’t communicate it effectively to people, your existence is pointless. Time after time I’ve sat in a lecture while a stuttering, sweaty mess of a human stands in front of me, only speaking in mumbles and shit jokes. Lecturers like this know who they are, because they’re always the ones who end up putting the entire transcript of their lecture on their PowerPoint slides. This is both boring and lazy, almost to the point of being offensive.

On the subject of communication, if I email you, I’d like an answer back within 3 days. I mean, I don’t think that’s unreasonable? In my experience most lecturers are actually pretty good in this regard, but there are some that either wait a week or two to answer a single question, that by that time no longer matters. Or worse, some just flat out ignore you. If you don’t engage with students, you’ll find students unwilling to engage with you.

One sure-fire way to get students disengaged is to not put your slides on Learning Central. Apparently, this is something that still happens. I say apparently; I’ve never personally experienced this, because none of my lecturers are barbarous monsters. The lecturer who does this does so using the logic, “If I don’t make my lectures accessible, people will show up more often!” That, unfortunately, is horseshit. If you have something interesting to say, people will trek through the freezing Welsh rain to hear you say it. If you don’t, they’ll stay in bed and watch TOWIE repeats. How you make your content interesting is up to you, but by not making lecture slides available, all you’re doing is jeopardising the grades and futures of students because you don’t think you’re a lecturer worth listening to.

Finally, please don’t plug your books in lectures. I get it, times are hard, and everyone’s gotta eat. The rule here is: it’s fine to have them on the reading list, but if you try to hawk them to us in lectures, you’re only going to come off looking like a greedy egomaniac. They should be in the damn library anyway; I’ll have a look there before I decide to buy your 6,000-page opus on the various types of sand found in Saudi Arabia.

The thing is, some lecturers get all this. Good lecturers understand that their students are there because they want to learn, and that they are there to help them as best they can. Good lecturers know how to make the dullest content imaginable seem enjoyable and interesting. Good lecturers are constantly finding new ways to provide a better learning experience to students. I’ve been lucky enough to have some very good ones at Cardiff, but others haven’t been afforded the same luxury. And that’s a shame, because they’re the ones that’ll suffer when it comes to the job hunt, rather than their lecturer who stood in an empty theatre with all their text on one slide,  still gainfully employed by the university.