12th January 2007 at 00:00

Q. I have a number of lecturers in my department who are not sufficiently planning their lessons. Interestingly, they are also the lecturers who have had problems with class discipline. I have suggested that a fresh approach to some areas of their teaching might reduce the problems and better planning is essential. These lecturers are very experienced but not necessarily very good at their job. Some have qualified status.

I would like to do more to address complacency and incompetence.

A. The issue of whether or not poor planning is responsible for poor behaviour in classrooms is worth scrutinising. At the beginning of the year, I attended a training day devoted to classroom management and was amazed to discover just how much influence I could have over poor classroom behaviour simply by following a few simple rules.

I would agree that lecturers must be open to changing their ways, especially if change is called for as a result of lessons going badly. The maxim "if you want one thing to be different, you have to do one thing differently" is worth reminding lecturers of when they complain about student behaviour. It is also worth reminding lecturers that there isn't necessarily a correlation between the years they have worked and the standard of their teaching.

On the other hand, if you accept that an actor, however well prepared, is only as good as his lines, then maybe the curriculum needs to be more interesting.

Consider, also, that students may have been directed to inappropriate courses. Lack of interest is a key factor in poor behaviour. Systems should therefore be in place to allow students to switch courses.

The government's target of 90 per cent of FE lecturers trained by 2010 may yet be reached. This is good news for the sector and may eventually lead to pay parity. But it should also be remembered that being trained does not make you perfect and a programme of continuing professional development is essential to maintain standards.

Q. Like most teachers, I hope, I am not wedded to my subject, in my case information and communications technology. I am not a computer geek who spends her spare time building web sites and dissecting computers. I choose to do my accounts in my head or with a calculator, rather than spreadsheet, and prefer a diary to a Palm Pilot. But my students seem to live and breathe digitally. This is beginning to cause me embarrassment, as many seem to know more than I do.

A. ICT inevitably creates a generational divide and in this technologically obsessed era, every teacher will know there will be at least one or two students who know more than they do. Remember, though, that whatever their knowledge is, it doesn't extend to understanding the course requirements, so they won't pass without your expertise.

I learnt all my keyboard shortcuts from my students and continue to learn something new each week. I find, though, that for everything I learn from my students, they learn three times more from me.

Q. I have just started a new post and keep finding myself being compared to the previous incumbent, by students and colleagues. The students are the worst offenders, saying things such as "So and so's classes weren't as boring as yours" and "You are much harsher".

I am trying to build a good relationship with my students but these comments make me doubt myself and are demoralising.

A. It is always tough starting where someone left off but you have to keep doing the best job that you can. It is a fact of teaching life that you will be compared to other teachers.

I would not get into a conversation about what the previous teacher did or did not do, as it is really irrelevant. The fact is you are now in charge and the more that you ignore the comments, the more your classes will come to realise it. In time it will cease to be an issue.

* email dilemmas to donaldshort@tiscali.co.uk

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