Friday, 12 September 2014

The calm before the storm

Blimey. I am knackered, and I haven't even started teaching yet. In the past two weeks, my three colleagues and I have seen over four hundred potential students and enrolled about 250 of those, with invaluable support from our administrator; we've thrashed out timetables, reallocated who's doing what and when, sorted out rooms, planned (sort of) what we're going teach and when, redecorated (sort of) the rooms and noticeboards, including having statutory Equality & Diversity motivational posters (namely 1x Gandhi poster, 1x Malcolm X poster, 1x Nelson Mandela poster per room: this apparently keeps OFSTED inspectors and managers on Learning Walks happy), plus posters that deal with Employability, Literacy and Numeracy. I'm sure there must be a single poster out there that beautifully summates all the above.

It struck me, as I ran around doing all this adminny stuff and not without some irony, that I'd probably be better off running my own language school, instead of working for FE. Yet here I am still.

On Monday, I will face my new classes for the first time, and that is always a moment of trepidation. Just before you enter the room, you take a breath, wonder what the year will hold, step in, and begin to change the shape of the world for the class within. That may sound bombastic, yet it is true - all teaching and learning leaves the world looking different in one way or another, and perhaps no more so  than for those who need to learn a new language in order to live in a new land.

Actually, I have to be honest here - My colleagues and I have been paid the most enormous compliment by having virtually the entire cohort of last year's students sign up (without bribery or coercion) for another year of study, something that happens not that often. However, they've also been joined by new students, so that'll be fun.

I have a clear idea of the direcion we'll be taking this year - I should after twenty years on the job - but not a clue about the routes we'll take, which alleyways and back roads we'll explore together, what stumbling blocks and hurdles we'll surpass, what surprises await us.

And that's what I love about this job - there really is always something new, even among the turgid dross of admin and official expectations. Once I've closed the door of my classroom, absolutely anything can happen. Most of the time, it's a series of little bits of magic and miracle, of watching light bulbs go 'pop' above someone's head as they realise something, or see that they understand a word, or phrase that just minutes before had been entirely alien. It's the moment where I tell a joke and they laugh, then laugh again at the realisation that they've understood the joke in the first place, and THEN they tell a joke in English, and other people laugh. It's seeing someone, who began a course crying with frustration at not being able to explain their predicament, crying with joy because they can explain and SOMEONE ELSE LISTENED AND UNDERSTOOD THEM. It's the joy of just being with people who actually want to learn, to get ahead, to make their lives better. The class is just a great place to be.

But then I have to leave this, return to the office, and deal with the dead grey hand of bureaucracy - the one that reduces humans to dessicated numbers and flicks these around like a ghoul with an abacus, lifting some here, dropping some there - and I wonder why it is that there are those who deem certain lives, and certain kinds of education, to be of so much less value than others. I know, that in many (but most certainly not all) cases, it's not any one  person who does this. It's just the way the whole system works, yet some participants of it are more enthusiastic for the workings of the machinery than others.

And yet for all the negatives, I prefer to keep in mind who it is I teach, and why I do it, and fight for their corner as best I can. I'm not here for the enhancement of some bean counter's reputation - I'm here for the students. I'm not here to let my college boast of how much they've saved in wages, or how many students they've enrolled or retained or got to pass an exam - I'm here for the students. I'm not here to make other people, or me for that matter, look like better people - I'm here for the students. I'm certainly not here for the money - if I were, I wouldn't have hung around when our wages got cut a couple of years ago.

And so, here we go again: the calm before the storm, the time to take a breath, open the door, step into the room and start weaving new shapes into the tapestry of other people's lives.

Enjoy your year, whether you're a teacher, or a learner, or both.

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