I’m a bit of a wandering vagabond of a teacher, having worked in a number of sectors. Before settling in to my current post as FE Foot Soldier of the Word (or “English teacher”, as it’s known in the low speech), I was in secondary for a fair few years. There are many similarities between the two sectors, but on a personal level, one of the marked differences for me has been to do with learner journey.
In secondary, you eventually send your classes off into the wide, wide world and sometimes it takes years to discover how they fared. There may be a visit from an ex-pupil, you might read about them in the paper (hopefully detailing some success story rather than having them stare back at you from a mugshot), or there’s a tap on the shoulder now and then when you’re out and about.
Confirmation of their success (I mean wider success, not just exam results) is often a rare occurrence and can leave you wondering, unsure as to whether you had any lasting effect whatsoever.
In FE, it’s a little different. My ex-learners are everywhere. They’re all up in your (car) grill at the local mechanics or cooking up your usual quarter pounder with a side order of another quarter pounder at your lunchtime burger joint – with no discount for having dragged their sorry carcass, kicking and screaming, through to a level 2 functional skills pass either. (Yes, Daryl. I’m talking about you in the magazine, like I said I would. Where’s the love, Daryl? Huh? Huh?).
I wouldn't have it any other way
They’re the security guard in the sports shop where you buy your trainers, eyeing you suspiciously until figuring out exactly where it is they know you from, then continuing to eye you suspiciously. Or, in my favourite turn of events, they’re the ones that look after your kids at nursery school. And the great thing is, unlike secondary, it doesn’t take years to see – in many cases, it happens almost instantly.
Validation on your walk to the bus stop after a hard day is a real pick-me-up.
A quick jaunt outside can often be extended by a third, as I stop countless times to chat with those who used to sit in front of me, who now rush, stand, measure, drive, serve, smile, fix, build, write and care in their everyday working lives. But I don’t think that I’d have it any other way.
That immediate feedback is incredibly heartening, more than anything. It may be selfish, it may be slightly egotistical, even (OK, largely egotistical), but it does the heart good to witness that, in many cases, those that you had in your classroom are now doing alright outside of it.
I’m not left to wonder. I’m not leaving them as they leave the school gates any more. I’m lucky enough to get to tag along for a while. Even if there aren’t any free burgers on offer.
Tom Starkey teaches English at a college in the North of England @tstarkey1212