Skip to main content

'Let's help students on the way to something with worth'

Tom Starkey was surprised to find a number of his former students standing between him and his bacon roll

uncertainty GCSE progression students FE colleges

Tom Starkey was surprised to find a number of his former students standing between him and his bacon roll

So the new term has started.

Or at least I think it has.

What’s making it difficult to ascertain is the fact that what feels like the entire cohort from last year has taken to camping outside my door, seemingly in an effort to induce a huge sense of deja vu while (more heinously) blocking the path to my crucial early bacon-and-sausage sandwich.

This turn of events is even more surprising given the fact that as I work in an in-house alternative provision centre in our college, many of the students had been extremely vocal in their delight at never having to darken my doorstep again as we’d sent them on their way after they’d taken their GCSEs.

Yet here they are. Stopping me from getting my calorifically delicious breakfast bap. There is a barrage of questions, a litany of complaints, some comments on my physique (“You sure them baps you’re always eating are a good idea then, Tom?”) and just a generally annoying hanging of the about. For students that spent around about 20 per cent of their time when they were supposed to be here telling me that they didn’t want to be here, they aren’t half a clingy bunch.

Dealing with uncertainty

So what’s with the communal lurk outside my office door? Especially from these hard-nut, don’t-give-a-damn types? Well, even though there is the huge negative that they stand between me and tomato sauce-covered salvation, these are learners who have progressed onto other courses within the college. They were with us for a year and now they’re on sport or travel and tourism or health and social care. They should be scattered throughout the building, stopping some other tutor maxing out on saturated fats. But no. They’re here.

Because here is where they feel comfortable.

There are many students in college (and not just the ones like my AP bunch) who aren’t great at dealing with uncertainty. Where change is a massive issue. Where being put in an environment where you are not sure of the rules or the routine can be problematic. It’s the fear of the new writ large and can be even more keenly felt if life at home isn’t particularly stable. Although last year was hard work for me in lots of ways, relationships were built. Solid ones. And it was that solidity and familiarity that my ex-students were searching for. Outside my office. In the way of sandwiches.

New familiarity

Hopefully, they find that solidity and familiarity on their new courses – not just because I want them out of the way (because I do) but because they’ve made tentative steps towards doing something that has worth. That’s all I ever really hope for any of mine. But ultimately that’s up to them. I’ll let them hang about for a day more and then the apron strings are getting cut with a notice saying something along the lines of "Bog off you lot" (in slightly kinder terms…Possibly). You’ve got to be able to adapt.

And also, I’ve got to be able to get down to the cafeteria without any undue obstruction.

Tom Starkey teaches English at a college in the North of England

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you