The morning-after syndrome

A good night often results in a bad day at college - and I speak from experience

When I was younger, I followed Prince's advice and partied like it was 1999. I was so dedicated, in fact, that I did this continually from 1988 to 2004. My past life as a relentless bon viveur has helped me to develop a certain expertise in functioning convincingly while enduring a hangover. My vague memory of my time at college is of constant socialising followed by shaking off the effects of the night before like a wet dog. Now it takes me three days, which is why I no longer drink very often or very much.

My own experience, however, does not affect how I treat my students. If a student arrives in college still in the throes of a mood-altering substance, the appropriate response is clear: it would be irresponsible and potentially dangerous to allow them to remain on campus.

I once sat in an empty classroom awaiting 18 plasterers, only to discover that the entire group had been suspended for smoking "jazz cigarettes". Had those criminal masterminds evaded detection by not smoking directly beneath a security camera, I like to think that I would have sniffed out that something was awry. While there is little call for the use of heavy machinery or hazardous chemicals in my English session, the same cannot be said for many vocational courses. If I had missed the signs and sent them on to a construction workshop, the consequences could have been dramatic.

Dealing with students who display the after-effects of a big night out is a complex behavioural area to navigate in post-compulsory education, especially with those who are legally old enough to do just about everything the law allows. It's endearing to see a group of students bond and a pleasure to bear witness to these young strangers developing friendships that could last through to old age. From a teacher's perspective, however, little is more frustrating than going through the motions with a group of learners whose bonding the night before has clearly taken them from the classroom to the pub.

Unlike with schoolchildren, there is little to waft at such students by way of warning. A 20-year-old is rarely troubled by the threat of a phone call to their mother. The only way to address a problem is by appealing to their sense of responsibility to their vocational course. This strategy relies heavily on the assumption that learners are ambitious.

I was well into my thirties when I finally stopped behaving like a booze-powered disco monkey. Although it is sometimes my job to try to coax young people towards a more mature attitude, I have a deep understanding of the siren call of a reckless good time and the poor choices that can result from it.

Sarah Simons works in a large further education college in Mansfield, England.

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