And here I am

5th November 2004 at 00:00
Could I work in an IT class where the lecturer had identified some lads who need support? Well, I had nothing else on the timetable that morning, so in I went.

Fifteen young boys might not sound like a big group, but imagine a football team plus the subs' bench packed into a small classroom with 15 computers.

The lecturer is explaining the finer points of computer systems but the students are only on a computer course in order to become Masters of the Universe.

They are supposedly learning about binary code and the lecturer has allowed them to switch on the computers in order to access the calculators. One lad is gazing at the on-screen calculator, the other 14 are zapping through level 20 of game of the day. The lecturer is at the board, demonstrating how to convert binary numbers. A rhythmic, tinny rattle accompanies his voice from around the room: students are allowed to listen to music while they work, providing they use personal headphones and do not disturb others.

So that leaves just one student capable of completing the worksheet that the lecturer now hands out. But the others are resourceful. Some copy the only lad who knows what to do. Another discovers that there is a chart accompanying exercise three, from which he can crib all the necessary information to complete exercise one in minutes. The others follow and soon everyone is back to obliterating the cosmos at level 20.

At the end of the lesson, I have to record how much progress the students have made in their chosen subject. I note that most of them have now managed to reach level 22.

Meanwhile, the lecturer collects the worksheets - and is delighted that his explanation has gone so well. I make my way into the crowded corridor, where the hairdressers are arriving for their next session. They are very easy to spot - not because they are more glamorous, but because they are pushing wheeled suitcases.

Carrier bags of plastic hair- curlers dangle from the handles, and I wonder why their cases are so full that they can't put the curlers inside? I fantasise about unzipping the cases and seeing grisly permed heads rolling out, on which they have been practising their dark arts. I have obviously spent too long in the IT class.

There's time to grab a quick lunch in the cafe and I am tempted by the menu's promise of hot rolls. It's a mistake: the disgusting taste of the filling stays with me for the whole day.

But things brighten up when a boisterous young student from the day centre arrives and chooses to sit at my table. I ask him what he's done this morning.

"We've been into town - and, well, here I am!" he declares.

Did he enjoy himself? "It was fantastic - and here I am!"

Did he spend all his money? "Yeah, we managed it - and, well, here I am!"

I thank him for his company and excuse myself as I have to go to a staff meeting. Two hours later as it grinds to a halt, I wonder what on earth I've got myself into. But then I wanted to be a basic skills tutor. And, well, here I am!

Gwen Kelly is an adult literacy support teacher

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