Humanities Training Coordinator
Practicalities guide for new graduate tutors in Humanities
When we think of teaching, we rarely consider the administrative side. Below are a few
pointers to help you deal with the practicalities of tutoring. There are different teaching norms
and practices in different faculties because of different expectations in subjects but most
Humanities graduate students begin with teaching one or two students by weekly tutorial in
which case most of what is said below will apply.
‘Preparing for Learning and Teaching in Oxford’ or ‘Introduction to teaching’ courses offered
by faculties are the best way to become acquainted with subject-specific expectations and in
principle you should not teach until you have undertaken one of these courses.
Teaching takes up a great deal of time and energy – be canny about the teaching you agree
to do and remember that for every tutorial hour you can expect at least a further two or three
hours of preparation and marking time. Set rigid limits to time spent teaching – your faculty
may have a recommended maximum number of hours per week.
Things you need to know before you start planning your teaching
Make sure you know how many tutorials you are expected to teach during the term – it could
be anything from four to eight.
Check if there is anything you should know about the student, such as a learning difficulty,
extreme shyness or any other personality feature that will help you to prepare for your
Will the student be required to sit a college collection (i.e. an examination taken within
college at the end of the course) on the tutorials you are teaching? Will you have to set it and
mark it and if so when?
Is the tutor who has asked you to teach the right person to contact in case of any difficulties
eg. if the student is ill or persistently does not show up to tutorials? If not, then who is your
point of contact at the college?
Setting up teaching
It is highly likely that if you are asked to teach a student for the term ahead the administrative
details will be left to you.
You will have to arrange a convenient time for weekly tutorials with the student and book a
room to teach in. Note: you are the tutor, so while it is sensible to take the student’s schedule
into consideration, you do not need to put yourself out unduly to accommodate them!
You may be able to book a teaching room in your own college as long as you give plenty of
notice, otherwise the rooms may all be booked. Ideally, contact the relevant administrator the
term before you start to teach or as soon as possible thereafter.
If your college does not permit graduates to book teaching rooms, contact the tutor who
asked you to teach and ask if they mind booking you a room at their college.
You should not teach in your college MCR. Not only are you likely to be disturbed, but it is
possible that your college has a policy against students using the common spaces to earn
You should never meet a student in your college room. It may make the student feel
uncomfortable and leaves you open to charges of inappropriate conduct.
It is in principle OK to meet your student in a coffee shop, but it is unlikely you will run a very
successful tutorial in that context!
Contacting the student
It is your responsibility to get in touch with the student once you have agreed to teach them.
You need to introduce yourself and work out when you will schedule your tutorials – this is
made more complicated by the availability of teaching rooms so the sooner you fix a time the
You should plan to meet your student briefly before the first tutorial, perhaps towards the end
of the term before you start teaching. This gives you the chance to find out what the student
is interested in learning, discuss your course plan with him/her and set any vacation reading
or essays you want the student to cover.
You should also make it clear what the student will be assessed on during the course, when
to submit essays (before or during the tutorial) and whether you intend to set penalties for
It is unlikely that you will receive payment for the initial meeting, but it is still worth having. If
you discuss your plans for the course and what the student might get out of it early on, and
allow the student to suggest changes or highlight particular areas of interest, the tutorials will
go much more smoothly than if you present the student with a fixed plan and don’t explain
why you’ve chosen these particular topics.
An initial meeting gives you the chance to get to know the student a little, and get a sense of
how much they know already about the topic or field of study. If you are teaching a Junior
Year Abroad student, for example, their studies in their home institution may bear no relation
to your discipline, and this will affect how they approach the work you set them.
It is likely that you will be allowed a wide degree of latitude in what you teach. The most
sensible thing is to teach to your strengths, at least in the beginning, but you should try to
accommodate the student’s interests as well.
If you are teaching an assessed paper (eg. a Finals paper or an extended essay paper),
make sure you have consulted the undergraduate handbook and past exam papers so you
know how and on what the student will be assessed. The undergraduate handbook will also
include marking criteria – you and the student should be familiar with these so that you both
know what you are working towards. These are usually available on faculty websites, on
Weblearn or from faculty offices. Past exam papers can be found at Oxford Exam Papers
You should prepare a reading list of primary and secondary texts for the student in advance
of the course. If you are feeling generous, you might indicate which texts are the most
important so the student can prioritise.
Whether to set vacation reading or a vacation essay, whether to set essay topics or let the
student choose them, whether you choose to take in an essay from the student every week
or set different tasks occasionally is all up to you, though it is probably worth discussing with
the student what works best for them.
The standard tutorial format consists of an essay every week, submitted before the tutorial or
read out in the first twenty minutes, followed by essay feedback and discussion. You are not
tied to this format. Eg. if you would rather have your student present the main points of an
essay rather than read out the whole thing, you can do this.
If you are not a UK citizen, you will need a National Insurance number before you can be
paid. You can apply through the local JobCentre Plus office. Telephone 0845 600 0643
between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday. You will be called for an interview and will need to
prove your identity with a birth certificate, passport, driving license, student card etc. You are
advised to bring as many official documents as possible to the interview.
See http://www.dwp.gov.uk/lifeevent/benefits/ni_number.asp for full instructions on how
to apply for a National Insurance number. The process will take a few weeks, so start as
soon as possible.
If you are teaching for a college, it is most likely that you will be paid via OxCort, the
electronic system that manages teaching between the colleges. OxCort can be accessed
from any computer in the world. See http://www.oxcort.ox.ac.uk/ and download the
‘Manual for Tutors’ for full instructions on how to use OxCort.
The first time you teach for a college, ask the organising tutor to set you up on OxCort. This
will allow you to write the student’s report for the term and receive payment. Once you are
set up, you must enter your payment details and update them as necessary. You only need
to be set up on OxCort once, but for each student you teach, the organising tutor must
assign you that student on OxCort.
If you are teaching for an exchange programme or other body, you will not be paid via
OxCort. You should find out from the tutor who asks you to teach how payment will be
As an external tutor, you may need to register as self-employed; the college will not deduct
tax from your payment. Directions on registering as self-employed are available on OxCort.
Reporting on the student
You will not receive payment until you have satisfactorily completed a report on the student
via the OxCort system. The deadline for report completion is the end of 7th week for payment
to be received at the end of the term. If you miss it, payment may be delayed. Most bodies
follow the same rule of authorising payment on receipt of a report, but deadlines may vary.
Both the student and the organising tutor will read the report. It should contain the general
range of subjects studied over the term, where the student performed well, and where there
are suggested areas for improvement. Some programmes require an overall ‘grade’ or mark
for the student – check the criteria for these as they may be translated into credit at the
student’s home institution.
A few general points
In most cases your teaching will go very smoothly. However, if you run into disciplinary
trouble for any reason, you should contact the tutor who asked you to teach. You are not
personally responsible for disciplining the student. If that tutor is not available, in dire cases,
contact the Senior Tutor at the student’s college.
If the student is having personal problems, you should not attempt to counsel them. Be
sympathetic and flexible by all means, but if the problems are ongoing and the student’s work
is suffering, you should encourage them to take advantage of their college’s welfare structure
– peer supporters, Junior Dean, Tutor for Women, Dean, Senior Tutor, college nurse etc, or
the Student Counselling Service.
If you are concerned about the student’s progress, you might discuss it with the student first
of all. If you need to change something to help the student learn better, then talk to other
tutors about how they teach and seek some advice. If you are very concerned, contact the