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All I want is carpet and a little desk of my own

I'VE slipped into a parallel world. Transferring courses to our Graham Street Centre means I've become an itinerant, a bag lady, someone for whom the term dislocation is a lived experi-ence. Refurbishment goes on in our newly allocated accommodation and, while I'm promised a telephone, an online computer and a workroom and have seen and touched carpet samples, nothing has quite materialised yet.

The real world still exists. I know because a staff development session last week in our splendiferous centre for theatre and dance, the Space, was an aesthetic and physical delight as I sank into plush carpets, studied in airy, well-lit surroundings and met some of the students lucky enough to call this home. Which is why I feel so hard done by in parallel-world Graham Street.

A problem with the heating meant that I spent the break sitting on a radiator in the corridor thawing out. While that's a blatant bid for sympathy, it was not without its advantages. Students who hadn't completed modules or units last block tried unsuccessfully to saunter past with a casual hello. And to think I once used to spend the break sipping Earl Grey in the comfort of a carpeted workroom.

Teaching must go on, however difficult the circumstances. I try to keep my sense of humour, but even that can lead to difficulties. In the literature class, I asked my group if they'd heard of the term allegory. Frowny worried faces looked at me. I tried to lighten the mood. "It lives in swampy, green, murky water," I offered helpfully. They all nodded seriously. OK, some jokes misfire. "No, that's not an allegory. Anybody?"

Someone volunteered. "Is it when, you know, you eat something, and it disagrees with you, like peanuts?" Yes, we did get there eventually.

Anybody who has ever taught communication understands the difficulty of helping students grasp new concepts. I used to hold up a video tape and argue that it was a bus ticket. The class usually managed to convince me it wasn't, and in the process came to understand the concept of form and how to provide evidence for their judgments. Until Jade. Jade wrote me two and a half pages of evidence as to why the article she was analysing wasn't a bus ticket. It was worthy, Beckettian - and very, very frightening.

Our learners often have a lot to learn. They frequently excel in certain areas of knowledge, and yet suddenly reveal huge gaps in another. Lecturers learn to tread sensitively. Not so the students. One learner came back from tea break bursting to announce: "Guess what? Amy doesn't know who Hitler was!"

Amy, his girlfriend, wasn't prepared to let him off with it. "I do now," she said, eyes flashing. "He's the guy who organised the war."

Dawn was organising the war in my "Working With Others" group. They were involved in a fund-raising meeting, and finding it pretty hard to meet the performance criteria for outcome two which is, basically, getting along nicely with each other. Dawn was rounding on a group member. "You never do any work are always absent cause trouble want your own way."

I have hopes of recovering my equilibrium and my generosity of spirit once I slip back into the real world of telecommunications and carpets and once my world contains a little desk at which I can sit and do my marking. A small empire perhaps, but sufficient. I have, after all, to lead by example. I have hopes that when Dawn bosses her group and acts like a petty dictator, she'll do it nicely - the way lecturers do.

Dr Carol Gow is a lecturer in media at Dundee College.

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