Another view - Four lessons without the expected funeral

10th July 2009 at 01:00

It was going to be a breeze. A walk in the park. The easiest of rides.

After what seemed like years of preparation for our Ofsted inspection, I had been told my area of work was deemed too small to justify a subject inspector. Yippee! The others would have to suffer without me. I was off the hook.

But was I? With only a week to go to the big day, it was discovered that several of my courses were actually in areas up for inspection after all. So, not off the hook. Right back on it. And wriggling.

But why should I worry? Hadn't I been here before? A quick count told me I had been through at least six inspections previously: by Ofsted, the old Further Education Funding Council, and whatever they were called back in the days when inspectors just popped in for an afternoon, nodded their way around a few classrooms and left.

And hadn't I done all the preparation for it? Weren't my lesson plans laid? Class profiles updated? Schemes of work tweaked? So why not just sit back, relax and watch the novices charge around like mad things?

But I was far from relaxed. At times like this, you realise it's not experience that determines your state of mind, but temperament. A bad teaching grade is never nice, and what I really feared was letting my colleagues down by getting one.

My only targeted class on the first day, Monday, was scheduled for student presentations - so lots of potential Brownie points for student involvement. But this was risky. While the presenters had all been threatened with garrotting if they failed to show, what if - come the hour - they breezed in with, "Sorry, no time to prepare. Can I do it next week?"

Of course, I had my back-up plan. But what inspector would be impressed by communal singing in a study skills class? As it turned out, impromptu choruses of "Ging Gang Goolie" weren't needed. The lesson went off without incident. Inevitably, no inspector appeared.

Tuesday was likely to be trickier. This time all three of my classes were in the firing line. For the first one, I planned to show a video taken from a TV programme. OK, not quite state of the art (Do not pass Go, do not collect Pounds 200), but the programme was interesting and would lead to lots of spontaneous discussion (Bank error in your favour, collect Pounds 50).

I arrived early to check out the equipment. It is a perverse rule of electronics that no one video player is ever like any other. And they all seem to have a tenuous relationship with the TV to which they are attached. One by one, the students trickled in. The clock ticked inexorably towards the hour mark. All that appeared on the screen was a fuzzy mess.

I grabbed a passing colleague. He tutted, pressed all the buttons I'd already pressed, then went on his way. "That's why I don't use this old- tech stuff any more," was his parting shot. By now it was 10 past. Any minute now the door would open, a grumpy man with a clipboard would walk in and I would dissolve into a little puddle.

Then a miracle. Alternatively, I might just have found the right button. The programme appeared on the screen and at last the lesson could begin. The students were interested. They certainly talked a lot; and quite a bit of it was relevant talk. Of course, no inspector came anywhere near.

In the next class, someone actually fell asleep. Not my fault, you understand: apparently she had been up all night working. The one after that was in an IT room, but thankfully the anticipated power cut didn't happen. No one started a fist-fight either. Of the inspectors, there was still no sign.

And that was it. As a lecturer on a fractional contract, my teaching week was over. All that paperwork, all that perspiration, and for what? I felt as flat as yesterday's beer.

But, then, at least I hadn't let anyone down.

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