This article offers advice to new lecturers on what support they might be required to offer their undergraduate students. It covers the following themes:
- Personal matters
You might find that some students come to your classes without the basic skills needed to undertake their degree programme. This will be unusual as most students will have been chosen because their qualifications make them suitable for the degree, but perhaps students that come through clearing, or mature students who have been out of education for a while, or students from overseas might not have the skills needed.
One area for improvement might be language. If English is not the student’s first language, your university will usually offer a short English language course to help them improve. Another area is essay writing and exam skills. This area can be especially weak in returners to education who have not studied for a long time. As well as giving the student the skills they need, confidence building is also important.
If you feel you do not have the knowledge or the time to impart these skills, many universities now have a Student Support department which will be able to offer the student one-to-one guidance.
Helping students to avoid plagiarism (citing someone else’s material as their own) is a very important part of a lecturer’s job. This is best done by teaching good research methods (such as effective note-taking) and referencing methods.
Increasingly universities are offering employability advice (i.e. helping students decide what they want to do after finishing their degree). The careers service undertakes the main part of this, but as a lecturer you might also be required to offer advice to students.
If you work with third year students you are likely to be asked to act as a referee for their job applications, so it is important that you see their CV and discuss with them what their ambitions are. You might also be required to promote the subject you teach by explaining explicitly to potential students what career prospects they may end up with once they’ve studied your subject.
Increasingly students are arriving at university with a diagnosis of dyslexia or dyspraxia and you need to know how to help those students perform at their best. This will probably involve working with student support teams to provide extra resources (such as lecture notes in advance) and guidance. These students may also be offered special assessment regimes.
You may also encounter students who you strongly suspect of having dyslexia or dyspraxia. In that case, inform the student’s personal tutor or year tutor and they will be able to approach the student and offer help and support.
The main thing to remember about these cases is that you’re not alone. Talk to colleagues and ask their advice, remembering to handle this issue in a confidential and sensitive manner.
Any lecturer, but especially those assigned the role of personal tutor, might find themselves in the position of having to support a student with a personal problem. This could be a health or mental health issue, a problem with accommodation or money, a relationship breakdown or being the victim of a crime.
Again, you are not alone. Remember that it is your job to reassure the student and be a friendly face, but you do not have to solve their problem yourself. The student support team can help, as can the personal tutor or year tutor system within your department. The Students’ Union can also advise on financial and accommodation matters.
Usually the student has come to a lecturer because they fear that their studies are being affected. Perhaps they have missed classes or assessment deadlines. You may be able to help them get extensions for their pieces of work, or support them by informing other lecturers of your conversation so they do not penalise this student.
On all these matters, the best advice is to be sensitive and confidential, to ask advice on what you should do from institutional and departmental support systems and to follow procedure as outlined in your staff handbook. If in any doubt, ask your teaching mentor or line manager for help before the situation gets too serious.