Discussing teaching workload

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This article was originally published on the SRSCC site but republished here for your convenience.

Discussing teaching workload

Are you spending too much time on teaching? What can you do?

This document is advice from the Staff/Research Student Consultative Committee (SRSCC) on how to deal with your teaching workload. It is informal and not part of school regulations.

First, you’ll need to know how many hours you are supposed to work, and how many hours you are working in practice.

The average number of hours you are supposed to work on teaching depends on your position. You will have been offered a contract specifying the number of hours you are supposed to work. For example, if you are a full-time TA with 188 hours per year, and you teach for 2 terms, then this amounts to 8-10 hours per week.

There are many things that fall under hours spent teaching: marking, lecturing, holding vivas, but also compiling students’ code, going to a meeting about the module, reading the lecture notes… But the "Introduction to Learning and Teaching (ILT)" modules are not a part of your teaching duties and so are not hours spent teaching!

You might exceed the number of hours one week, and work less another week. In principle, on average, you should work the number of hours you are allocated. Of course, it can be difficult to predict how long teaching tasks will take, and there needs to be some flexibility, but the module coordinator is responsible for assigning an appropriate amount of work to you.

If you feel you are exceeding your allotted hours, then you should contact the coordinator of the module. (Ideas on what to say are below.) It would be wise to start precisely measuring the time you work on the module, so that you can say what you want.

However, it is sometimes not so simple to tell a module coordinator you are spending too much time teaching. If you do manage to bring it up, the coordinator may suggest that you save time by marking less precisely or by giving coarser marks. You should keep in mind four things:

1. You should make the best of the allotted hours, but it is up to the module coordinator to choose a tradeoff in how many assignments to set, how many assignments to mark, how to have them marked, and how much the coordinator helps with things you are doing now.

2. Students learn from assignments regardless of the mark they get. The main purpose of assignments is to force students to actually use the offered material, so that they remember it better. We put deadlines and (sometimes) marks because otherwise the assignments might slip away to the bottom of students' to do lists, and they might never get around to it.

3. If a student does feel their mark is unreasonably low, there is no problem because they can always go to the coordinator and complain. If you have to mark under time pressure, then it is quite possible that you make a mistake in some cases and you do not need to feel ashamed of this.

4. The coordinator remains the primary person responsible for the module, even though you are helping.

Discussing workload with the module coordinator

As soon as it becomes clear that you are going to work more hours than you are supposed to, it is useful to give the coordinator a heads-up: so you should not wait until the end of the module and then complain afterwards.

If you feel uncomfortable doing this in person, you can send an email such as the following.

Dear …,
Would it be possible to discuss my workload for the teaching duties of <module>?
I have been assigned to work, on average, <hours allocated> hours per week. However, my current workload puts this closer to <hours worked> hours per week.

Ask the SRSCC for help!

Contact the teaching representative (this is normally a PhD student). You can find them on the members page: https://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/internal/local/committees/staffresstudent/members/ .

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