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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more


Postgraduate Diary: Hourly Paid Teaching

Monday, November 17, 2008

I have a proviso to add to my previous post, in which I wrote about the largely positive nature of having a substantial teaching load. This is - what else could it be? - a gripe about pay. Now during the previous years when I have taught just a couple of groups, the pay was largely irrelevant. The demands on my time, over the course of the year, were minimal, and though that £60 or so each month was welcome, I would probably have done it for free because the experience was so positive.

Now, though, I find myself in the unenviable but by no means uncommon of being an hourly-paid university teacher. The University and College Union have been campaigning about this for years, but I have always passed over the mutters and grumbles in my UCU magazine. I now realise what they were on about - indeed, you can consider this post my virtual placard.

I am paid at the rate of £30 per contact hour with each group, plus £30 for one hour's preparation per group. Not a bad wage, on the face of it. Until I worked out how many hours I actually have done, compared to how many I have been officially paid for. Totting up the hours I have spent in preparation for each tutorial, sitting in front of a computer making groovy handouts and thinking up exciting activities, I have done around 60 hours to teach six different modules. Though it's a bit hard to calculate, because my monthly salary is divided into twelve equal installments whereas the teaching is erratic depending on the times we arrange to meet over the year, I guess I'm probably being paid for only about one quarter of the time I actually put in. And, I should note, that this 60 hour estimate is just formal time when I have switched on the computer for the sole purpose of preparing a tutorial. It does not include all those accumulated minutes snatched on the bus or before bed at night when I have done the primary reading of the various novels and poems I am teaching. It does not include the incidental minutes when I have had to field email questions, or upload resources onto our online learning system. It does not include all the admin of printing, photocopying, and filling in absentee reports.

Finally, for those who haven't switched off after this petty rant, I want to add a note about employment rights in my "casual" teaching role. When I also started work in the university library, I had to churn through whole wads of paper relating to my pension contributions, health and safety, employment rights, mentoring, staff development opportunities and so on. Which is all very laughable, given that I spend twice as much time teaching as I do in my library job. For what passes for my teaching "contract," by contrast, I am technically not employed by the university. I can be dismissed without notice at any point in the year. I have no automatic right to a pension. I am not eligible to undertake any process of personal development, and receive no money to support my training. Worst of all, my library rights and computing access will in principle be withdrawn once I submit my thesis (although through a combination of luck and planning, my library role will still allow me these privileges, so I personally should not notice any difference).

The nail in the coffin is the fact that I am helpless in the face of all these contradictions. I realise that the teaching will ultimately pay off in the long run, as the experience will round off my CV so I can apply for proper academic posts next year. But any of the other postdocs (i.e. my friends) in my department no doubt realise this likewise. Were I to refuse to teach in protest, others would be only too happy to step into my shoes. Were I to kick up a fuss to the university big wigs, they would no doubt pressure my department simply to drop me.The only ray of enlightenment and glimmer of gold might be found in a recent report in my UCU magazine. This concerns hourly-paid teaching staff at Aberdeen (including postgraduates), whose concerns and frustrations seem remarkably similar to my own. But, having waved their painted placards at their university administration, they have had some success. In conjunction with the union, the University reached a new agreement with Teaching Assistants:
TAs are paid for 'sufficient hours to carry out their duties', including
marking papers and emailing students, and specifying that TAs are entitled to
pay progression for each year of experience. As this newsletter went to
press, TAs were being issued with contracts. Early indications are that in some
departments, the assessment of hours of work has increased by 40%, the number of
students in tutorials has been reduced to 2005 levels, and TAs will be paid to
participate in course reviews.

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Posted by Alistair at 11:29 am

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