Lecturer Vs Teacher

Lecturers aren’t teachers, no matter how great the teaching focus of our institution is.  There are major differences between classroom management 0f 5 – 16 year olds, and wrangling  a lecture theatre full of adult students of varying background.  For a start, university lecturers are researchers first and usually foremost.  They will have been employed on the strength of their research background, the fundability of their future research ideas and perhaps their teaching or outreach experience or potential.  Many universities require new lecturers to take courses in teaching.  To me, that says it all – lecturers get on the job training for teaching, having spent many years as researchers.

Teaching at university level is distinctly different from teaching in high school or sixth form college.  Let me point out some of the differences.  A-level specifications are created by exam boards, resources often created by publishers for specific a-level specifications, exams are written by exam boards and marked by people employed by exam boards.  University courses: years, modules, etc are created by academics at each institution.  The specifications for each course or section are drawn up by those who are teaching the material and often fit with their specific expertise or interest, particularly at higher levels.  Exams are written, generally, by those who teach the courses and are marked by those who teach the courses.  There is no central university exam board sending exam papers for all the first year chemistry students in the country to sit.

Many universities have historical reasons for what aspects of chemistry they teach when.  This may not be the most logical approach but doing as we have always done can be a pretty strong anti-change influence.  Some university applicants pick this up as they visit universities, seeing the difference between the approaches of different institutions to first year study, but some don’t.  It is yet another thing to consider when selecting an institution.

What are the other differences? In my opinion, learning sessions (lectures, labs, seminars, problem classes, tutorials…) should be different.  A lecturer should not have to give more than basic guidance on behaviour – the students are all adults and should be capable of modifying their behaviour in response to the situation. This isn’t always the case, but lecturers don’t have the luxury of sending people to see the head.    There are disciplinary procedures available, but I personally would never expect to have to need them.  Students are ideally self-motivated learners who take responsibility for their own understanding and locating appropriate resources.  I say ideally, and many will require support and guidance, which is fine.   Getting a degree is not easy, and nor should it be.

So what else do lecturers do?  Most have administration/support roles within the university at some level.  For example, recruitment, pastoral care of students, coordinating research or seminars, coordinating courses, dealing with academic misconduct, library budgets, study abroad opportunities, careers, schools outreach, planning building renovations,… the list is endless.  Lecturers also do research, either directly in the lab themselves, or by supervising students on research projects.  The key here is that lecturers have independent research interests, apply for funding to conduct that research, and present the results of that research through scientific publications, conference presentations and other routes.

Teacher is one of three roles that lecturers have, but is not necessarily the job that they were recruited for. To become a lecturer generally you have a degree, PhD, postdoctoral research experience, a decent publications list demonstrating your ability to do research, and other stuff.  To become a high school teacher you generally have a degree and a teaching qualification (although there are new routes into teaching, and a sense that it could be a Masters profession in the future).  Big difference really.

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