Summer's gone and the adrenalin is rushing

IF the end of June is teachers' Hogmanay, then August brings Ne'er Day, and a sober realisation that the lazy days of summer don't actually stretch like endless elastic after all, and that those advertising billboards screaming "back to school", with the "s" scrawled back to front, apply to you, too.

Where did it all go? What have I achieved? The laments whirling round your head sound like a not very good Jacques Brel lyric. There were so many resolutions. They all began "next session" and were peppered with strong words like always, never, everything and won't. But no matter how hard you stamp your little feet and scream, it only takes a few minutes back at your desk to realise that intransigence isn't an option. The timetable grasped in your hands begins to mutate into something completely different and you remember the word flexibility. Boxes of photocopying pile up and yellow sticky notes litter your desk and flutter about like autumn leaves.

Sooner or later someone always makes an ironic comment about how many forests we have decimated, and aches for the paperless office. That suddenly cheers you up, because you know it's coming soon, and to a desk near you.

I have been working on a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and I'm thrilled with the endless possibilities. It has been hard work putting it together, but it is creative, challenging and fun. At first you are seduced by talk of synchronous and asynchronous interaction, gifs, tifs and hypertext markup, and you marvel at the possibilities of Frontpage and Flash. If you are really cool you forget about textbook jargon and use geek-speak, as in "my shed's just collapsed". Which happens often, of course.

Just how different life could be for the lecturer working within a VLE hit me when I outlined the course to colleagues. Normally that would mean bringing a very large box of very large documents to the meeting. This time, I carried only my bunch of keys. The idea of not lugging piles of class folders and photocopying round different centres, of not having to use a briefcase that could double as a suitcase for a fortnight in Barra, appeals to me. The virtual classroom beckons and I dream briefly of working from home in my PJs.

Meanwhile we prepare for face to face confrontation with our learners as if for battle. A new session feels like a completely new beginning. I remember as a rookie being surprised that colleagues who had been teaching for 20 years or more would arrive the first morning of teaching ashen-faced, confessing to not having slept a wink.

Surely you got used to confronting a roomful of strangers, sussing them out, building up rapport, spinning plates while juggling flaming torches and for a finale jumping into a very small swimming pool from a height of 100 metres?

Well, OK, I'm talking metaphorically here, but I see you nodding your head. And no, you don't get used to it but you do get hooked on the adrenalin.

Our new learners probably don't get much sleep before their first day either. Whether they come to us from school, or after a time away from education, it is often a step into the unknown and they are probably just as anxious as we are that all goes well. Not all of my learners will be brand new, though. Some will be old friends returning for another year.

As the non-teaching week speeds in, they begin to telephone, write, or wander in for a chat in increasing numbers. An e-mail arrives from Emma who's coming back to complete her HND. The subject is "Can i pick your brains?" Who am I to refuse? It's my job.

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

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