ECH Teaching: Issues for Postdoctoral Teachers

1 October 2014

Whether postdoctoral teachers are engaged in teaching as part of a research post or employed on a temporary contract to augment or cover some aspect of a department’s teaching, it is important that they establish clearly the context for their work in this respect.

The terms and conditions for teaching activity as part of a research post will vary depending on the funding body, and it is quite possible that a department may inadvertently assume that your particular post fits a pattern with which it is familiar from other funding bodies. How many hours are involved? Are the stated hours a ceiling above which you should not teach, or an entitlement which you can demand? How will such opportunities fit with the demands of your research in terms of archival research? You may be able to negotiate concentrations of teaching in particular semesters/terms or even years to create a rational fit with the demands of your research project.

Both research fellows and those on temporary teaching-focused contracts may need to be more proactive than GTAS to seek out opportunities for formal training and access to teaching qualifications as part of their career development.

For those not on research projects or research fellowships, predictably enough the injunction to read the small print is the most helpful advice. Employment law is a key consideration in the way contracts are worded by HEIs, who are often mindful that the role specified in the contract must be such so as not inadvertently to create any obligation to the person employed which might tie their hands when appointing to a permanent position or require them to continue to employ them after the date at which the post expires. Another issue is access to redundancy payments. It is particularly important in posts defined as a percentage of a position to note whether or not an obligation or opportunity to engage in research is envisaged (does it only cover term time, for example?) and what can be asked of you beyond teaching itself (pastoral responsibilities, administration?). Will you be provided with a room or other facilities such as IT? This may not be in the contract itself, but you need to know. Can you concentrate your teaching on to a single day or in appropriate blocks?

Any postdoctoral teacher hoping to deliver a module of their own also needs to be mindful of the often extremely bureaucratic procedures and long lead in times that may be required to get a new course onto the books and available to students with appropriate resources in place. You may need to do significant work on this before your appointment formally commences, and to plan well ahead for any new initiatives during the course of your tenure.

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