Most people are well used to being part of a team, I suppose. At primary gym classes my favourite game was a race where we had to wiggle under, over, through obstacles, perform a series of skips, hops and bounces of the ball, do a quick handstand on the farthest away wall and then run back to tig the next person. Not a bad preparation for my future career in FE. And you could forget about the "it's the taking part that counts" - we were out to win.
It may be that my deep-seated instincts about teams have been forever coloured by that early experience because I find now as I contemplate my team that I rather fancy the kind of winning against all the odds combination depicted in the current TSBLloyds Bank advertisement, full of shoulder-to-shoulder heroic images of teams fighting elemental forces - well FE's a pretty tough option at the moment, so softies need not apply.
The team leader would be a kind of towering Gary Glitter icon - do you wanna be in my gang, my gang?
There is a straight binary at the heart of the team concept, of course. Either you're in, or you're out, included or excluded. Naturally our fluid, flexible approach to team working won't nurture such a dichotomy and certainly not in the world of FE which is centred on inclusion, equality and new opportunities, and operates in a climate that can point to initiatives like Labour's new deal as representative of its philosophy. Well that's the theory anyway. This week made me realise we are still far too complacent.
At the beginning of the week my veterinary son phoned to tell me about the worst night duty of his career to date with the high spot of non-stop emergency calls coming at three in the morning after he had done a put-to-sleep. As he was walking back to his car he passed a gang of youths. They had trouble written all over them, and with a case of drugs in his hand, he was slightly relieved to get back to his car. He had just began to think he was getting over-suspicious and intolerant when he noticed that his radio had been ripped out.
The same evening my firefighter husband and his team had yet another bad night trying to put out a fire while being attacked by youths lobbing bricks and stones at them. As the machine finally raced off to attend to another incident, blue lights flashing and sirens wailing, one of the youths grabbed on to the ladder at the back and risked his life for a few hair-raising moments until he was spotted and rescued. It happens all the time.
Yobs? Thugs? Maybe. But I suspect that put those thugs in the uniform, plunge them into a real-life rescue and they would probably perform brilliantly. They are just in the wrong gang.
A colleague was complaining forcibly about an unruly class of pre-apprentices who had caused havoc in the library, could not understand the concept of sitting quietly and turn-taking and whose atrocious behaviour had culminated in an incident with a chair. "Why should they make your life easier by sitting quietly in the library?" I asked her. (Provocative, me?) "They're less than hopeful about future apprenticeships, so what's the system done for them that they should be so compliant?" I went on to suggest that if my colleague and I were excluded maybe we would be ripping arms off chairs, stealing radios and hitching rides on the back of emergency tenders. This somewhat sensational proposition did not meet with much favour with my colleague, nor with a friend who is a personnel officer in industry. "There are jobs. There are opportunities. There is the new deal," he said.
Fine. But one final experience from this week. Asked to cover a training for work class while their regular tutor was in hospital, I was met with a huge grin from Tony who had arrived early. "Hello, Carol," he said. We're old friends. I met him first in his adult community training class, and for three or four years I have bumped into him as he has attended other work-preparation programmes. He has never found work, but remains pleasant and polite and smiles a lot. He will probably never get angry, never pinch a radio or hitch a free ride on an emergency tender but he is every bit as excluded as those who do. As we waited for the others members of his class to arrive, I noticed that the chair designated for the tutor was a hard wooden one.
"Any comfy chairs?" I asked, absently looking round. "No they're all wooden ones, I'm afraid," Tony said apologetically. Our college has been refurbishing and renovating as fast as we can but there are still some black spots. This was obviously one of them - vinyl floor, bare walls, hard chairs.
There is a lot riding on the new deal. Its principles are designed to make our society an inclusive one, and these are principles worth having. If we get it wrong and let our young people down, we don't deserve to have them sitting quietly and smiling politely like Tony, apologising for the discomfort of the chairs.
They will have the right to get very angry indeed. Just so long as it's not in my class, all right?
Dr Carol Gow is a lecturer in mediacommunication at Dundee College.