Two years ago my Chalk the Sun partner, Jo, and I were engaged in the thankless task of trying to teach creative writing, with media-savvy pizzazz, in dreary Adult Education Institutes. Our least favourite was a London FE college which shall remain nameless. Or shall it? How about we call it Left-Wanting College? Or better still, let’s pretend we’ve just spent a six figure sum on a branding consultancy exercise and changed the name (and all the stationery) to the incalculably more dynamic, College Left-Wanting. Allow me to take you back there…
Teaching is now some kind of luxury add-on, a perk almost, in which I am allowed to indulge – in my own time – after completing, enormous, repetitive Excel spreadsheets, myth-making Health and Safety forms (including a risk assessment on the canteen lady’s kettle), and excessively detailed lesson plans which require me to enter the fact that I might need a register and board marker. The latter is no doubt required in case my over-loaded brain crashes and leaves me standing in the classroom, futilely drawing in the air, muttering, “Book thing? With names? …Big pen thing? For writing on the big square white thing…?”
Indeed teachers and teaching seem to be totally unvalued by anyone except the poor fee-paying punters. College Left-Wanting is only interested when an inspector looms and it is necessary to parade before him a teacher who can string two grammatically correct sentences together and whose students don’t doze off in class. The rest of the time quality teaching is just an empty slogan and we oppressed academics are on the bottom of an hierarchical heap, there to serve the whims of the car park men, porters, print room, admin team, finance clerks, IT nerds, Marketing, Quality, HR, Compliance Unit, and above all the Principal, Our Great Leaderene.
Woe betide us if we can’t remember the punch code for the classroom door because we each have three different door codes, photo-copy codes and log-in codes to remember at three different sites. No one will let us in.
You interview a Portuguese teacher when you should be on annual leave because otherwise there’ll be no tutor next term and you’ll have to deal with a dozen disaffected students whinging and asking ‘Por que?’ (or not as the case may be). You point this out to your boss, who seems oblivious to your personal sacrifice. ‘Not taking your full annual leave entitlement could be detrimental to your well-being and thereby constitute a breach of Health and Safety policy,’ she reminds you sternly. You mutter, ‘A simple thank you would suffice…’
Forgotten your ID pass? Got fifteen students waiting? Been working here for twenty years? Tough! Go home and get it; this is zero tolerance. And never mind that the Kosovan security guy enforcing this is employed by an agency that doesn’t bother with CRB checks; that buck’s been passed. Get your ID!
And if you don’t like it… leave and start your own company and teach and do everything else in your own way…