Adults who can't behave

Gwen Kelly

Jules bursts in, late again. I am explaining my carefully-crafted objectives for tonight's lesson, but no matter: she has more urgent news.

Last night Jules had another row with her ex, and the whole class must be updated. Her supporters give her the benefit of all their mature advice:

"Don't let him get away with it!" they cry. With friends like these, who needs counsellors?

I know that when Jules is hyped up about her home life, it's best to let her get it out of her system. I'm sure we will hear more about this incident before the night is out, but I must get the lesson back on track.

I suggest Jules sit down with her friends to discuss the finer details during the break.

I have already noted the empty chair saved next to Jim, so we are in for a noisy night. I should split them up, but they are adults and we must treat them as such, even if they behave like teenagers. I can't tell Jules who she can or can't sit next to, especially as a public put-down. But I can refuse Jim's request for an extra fag break and Matt's spurious trip to the library to return a book before it closes.

Jim has his mobile on. This is not allowed in lessons but Jim is expecting an urgent call. Someone is always expecting an urgent call from their solicitor, childminder etc, so if the phone goes and it really is urgent, we let students take the call in the corridor. This works fairly well except in Jim's case.

Jim's attention span is short, and in the time it takes to answer the call, he has forgotten we are in the middle of a lesson.

When he comes back, he will have picked up gossip in the corridor, which he must pass on, or thought of something great to do after class for which he must recruit mates.

During the break, I speak privately with Jules and Jim about not disturbing the class. They are both sorry and promise to try harder.

In the second half, just as everyone has settled down to a written exercise, we get an impromptu review from Leone of last night's soap, to which all contribute.

The rest of the evening proceeds quietly. I begin to wind up by going through the exercise. I am halfway through this when Jules, wriggling energetically and waving her arm, gasps "Can I just say something?" I smile benignly, glad she is able to make a positive contribution to the topic in hand.

At which point she bursts out: "Can I just say if anyone has any Walkers crisps, can they save the packets for me, because my mate is collecting for this charity and I know this boy in a wheelchair and he's only twelve and..."

Whereupon the bridge is lost, and with it, the battle. I wave the white flag, close the register, and bid them all goodnight.

The author is a college lecturer. Gwen Kelly is a psedonym

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