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  • Pros: As part of a comparison study of Creative Writing in UK and USA universities I approached Prof Tighe about shadowing him. He very kindly agreed. I attended classes with him for six weeks spread over the autumn and spring semesters. Prof Tighe, in addition to teaching six modules, ran the third year Independent Study module and did drop-by tutorials every week. I sat in on classes in all three undergraduate years and right off I found Prof Tighe to be open, generous and flexible: he put no constraints upon me, gave me access to handbooks, handouts and follow-up materials: he was available for discussion as and when. For three of the modules there was a substantial anthology of original articles and exercises written by Prof Tighe and put up on the university intra-net. His handbooks were superior to anything I had seen before. They had an attractive design and contained detailed reading lists, a description of the coursework, a learning schedule, a grade scheme and advice on how to do well. When I asked him why he provided something so substantial he said it helped to reduce opportunities for failure, which I held to be enlightened. Each session was an epic four hours long so I had ample time to observe. His classroom style was genial and relaxed, he was never late and never came unprepared, he made use of a variety of teaching methods and used all the technology available:- lectures, discussions, workshops, tutorials, slide shows, music, an extract from the film ‘Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid’, classroom handouts, board work. All very thoro. There was a great variety of topics with talks on aspects of writing, analysis of poetry, language choice, literary technique, politics of writing, ethical problems, plus discussion of student writing. A very entertaining class on Borges stays in my memory. I also attended a tailor-made set of lectures on research for writers. I wish teaching and support materials of such quality had been available to me when I was an undergraduate.
  • Cons: While I was mighty impressed, I have to say only a handful of students showed any real willingness to engage. Prof Tighe regularly set time aside for tutorials but only a couple students attended. Most of his efforts at discussion met with silence because the students had not read the work assigned as preparation. If he asked students a direct question if they were not silent they were often surly, even rude in response. While this was nascent with the first year students it was blatant with the second years and aggressive with third years. When I talked with students they found my enthusiasm for the lecturer and the subject odd. About half clearly intended to get by just on what was said and done in class, the absolute minimum. Several left their handouts behind when class finished. Most of the students were unaware their lecturer was a distinguished writer - none I spoke to had read anything he had published. One student said ‘I’ve looked at the booklist and it’s just a list of books’. Another student complained ‘He made me read a book for my book report.’ Two students boasted they planned to make a complaint about him and figured a grade hike on the back of that. They seemed to think this was legitimate. Clearly there is something very wrong in here. Why did these people choose to take a subject if they have no interest in it? How did such people get into university? What do they think they are paying for? How has such an unpleasant situation arisen, and how (if at all) does the university protect lecturers from people like this? I raised these issues with Prof Tighe but he was as they say ‘sanguine’. The usual class-size in Creative Writing is 15 students, but several classes topped 40+, so I raised this with him. He said this was a long standing issue for teaching staff who have no control over class-size. He saw no willingness on the part of management to take this issue seriously any time soon as reducing class-size would necessitate an investment in staff. Finally I have to say I was surprised to find a professor teaching undergraduates – only undergraduates. At most universities these classes would be handed to a junior lecturer while the professor dealt with postgraduate supervision, research and publication. But Derby does not have MA or PhD candidates in Creative Writing. Prof Tighe is incredibly patient, even with the rude students, but I wonder just wonder how much longer he will continue to labor in this unappreciative and rather hostile environment. Frankly he is wasted here.

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