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Probation for a lifer

What goes around, comes around. A stupid expression at the best of times, but in the course of a long teaching life, there are occasions when you feel like you've walked around the block and met yourself coming the other way.

I have worked for my current college in one way or another for almost 30 years, so it was a surprise when my line manager casually dropped into the conversation that she wanted to talk to me about my probation. Discretion forbids me from recounting our actual exchange, but let's imagine it went something like this:

"Glynis, about this probation thing. You might not have noticed, but I've been around the place for quite some time now."

"No, you haven't. You've been here for two weeks."

"Technically yes, that's true. But only because I left my tenured job to return straight away as an hourly-paid bod."

"There you are, then. As a part-timer, you've only just started. That's how human resources sees it. We need to put you on probation to find out if you're any good."

"But what about the last 30."

"No buts. Human resources doesn't deal in buts. So let's get on and talk about your training needs."

"Training? Ah, you mean teaching old dogs to do new tricks. Sit, lie down, jump through hoops - that sort of thing?"

"You know what I mean, Stephen. Equality, diversity, every student matters. No, sorry, forget that last one, it's been replaced with maintaining standards."

"You mean every student doesn't matter any more?"

"I mean that if we don't get our pass rates up, they'll close all our bloody courses."

"All right, all right, I'll be trained. As I'm such a new boy, perhaps I should sign up for the in-house arseelbow differentiation course."

"Stephen, be serious. You know that all the places on that have been taken by senior managers."

"OK, perhaps then if."

"I'm sorry, Stephen. Human resources doesn't deal in ifs. Now, what are your targets for the year?"

"Oh, for God's sake. I'm only teaching for one day a week. Do I really need targets?"

"Continual refreshment, Stephen. Don't you want to be continually refreshed? And you know how high up that sits on the college's list of `values we endorse'. It's a pivotal milestone on our fast-track-to-excellence journey."

"Oh yes, of course, `the journey'. How could I forget? But isn't there some alternative to probation? In the real world, people get tagged or put on a curfew. If I had to be home by 9pm every night, I'd have no alternative but to do all my marking on time."

"Stephen, you're just being silly. But now you must decide what level of success you are aiming for with your students. Let's just put down the benchmark and add 10 per cent, shall we?"

"Like we did last year, you mean?"

"Precisely."

"Anything you say, boss. But if I'm really so new, won't you need to tell me where the toilets are?"

"After all this time, I know you know where the toilets are."

Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a further education college in London

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