A classroom fantasy

23rd March 2012 at 00:00

I have this fantasy (no, not that fantasy, this one is publishable). It involves me arriving at work one day to find a strange man sitting in my chair. He's wearing a pinstripe suit and a bowler hat. He has a toothbrush moustache and a stopwatch.

He tells me that his name is Reginald and that his job title is "time and motion consultant". He has been parachuted in to follow me around and measure my productivity. It's part of a government scheme, he says, to see how much time lecturers really spend on their "core" activities. Not surprisingly, Reginald causes something of a stir in the classroom, but of course he's not actually in there for much of my working week. He grumbles about staying late most nights and he doesn't much like the weekend work either, watching me mark essays, answer emails and catch up on my admin.

Before he takes his leave, Reginald says he will be making two key recommendations. One is that I should spend a lot less time on extraneous tasks and a lot more on my real job: teaching, preparing for teaching and marking students' work. The other is that I should work more or less the hours I am paid for, rather than all the extra ones currently required.

My Reginald fantasy came to mind the other day when I noticed that the Trades Union Congress' annual "work your proper hours" day was with us again. This was particularly pertinent as, to no one's great surprise, a survey had just shown that teachers are the workers most likely to be involved in unpaid overtime.

So did I work only my proper hours on the designated day of Friday 24 February? As I'm not actually in work on Fridays, the better marker would be to examine the whole of that week. I currently have a tenured 0.5 lecturing post, with an "hours on premises" requirement of 17.5 per week, spread over Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesday mornings. On Monday, I arrived before 9am and left at 6.30pm. On Tuesday, I didn't get away until almost 8pm. Wednesday ran from 9am to 1.30pm. I didn't have time during these three hectic days to prepare for the next week's classes, so I went in on Thursday from 2 to 6pm. Add that lot up and you arrive at 29 hours.

The problem is that a lecturer's job is spelled out not in hours but in tasks. And in most weeks, there are simply too many tasks to fit into the hours allowed. Yes, you could skimp on some of the "student side" of the job, but what's the point of being a teacher if you neglect your students? Management likes to mouth high-minded cliches about "quality of delivery", but what it really wants is its forms filled in. We need a Reginald, but I fear he's destined to remain a fantasy.

Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a college in London.

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