Beware the new student trap

29th September 2006 at 01:00
lmost 24 years ago to this day, I walked into Moray House college for the first time. As I passed through the doors, something odd happened. I had a partial self-awareness bypass.

One of the problems with self-awareness bypasses, partial or otherwise, is that by definition you don't know that they have happened. It wasn't just me. All the new students had them, so I had no true benchmark against which to judge myself. The PSAB manifests itself thus: I was instantly convinced that I would be met by a load of lecturers who wouldn't last 10 minutes in front of a class. You need to have a lack of self-awareness to make a judgment like that when you haven't spent any minutes in front of a class yourself.

My physics tutor, the late Arthur Gibbons, was an instant contradiction to this snotty notion. One of the knights in The Canterbury Tales, that has been the journey of my professional life, he had clearly been a superbly competent teacher.

But then there was Alfred Kane (not his real name), a professional studies type. He was a wee man who wore an angular grey suit. There was a Wishaw bus conductor who looked like him. I foolishly decided to feel superior to this shy, quietly spoken man. One night, he appeared on Name That Tune and got the highest ever score. Half facetiously, or perhaps more than that, I suggested a round of applause at the end of the next tutorial. He quietly thanked me afterwards. I went outside rather dazed.

What had I become if I could be snide to someone who could not even spot snideness? I resolved to start listening to Alfred Kane, as opposed to sketching him wearing a ticket-dispenser. This was a very good move. He turned out to be extremely sharp in his own unaggressive way. When I chose to do my dissertation on language and communication in physics teaching, he was utterly invaluable and the ideas he introduced me to still serve me well.

Alfred Kane might not have lasted 10 minutes in front of a class, though at the time that I knew him I was barely managing 11 with some of mine. He was a lecturer in educational theory who was not expected to teach weans any more than a medical school professor of pharmacology would be expected to be able to perform a vasectomy (as I type this, I notice that I am sitting with my legs crossed).

I owe him, and not just because he directed me towards the Bullock report, language across the curriculum and all that. I may not yet be immune to the self-awareness bypass, but knowing it can happen is half the battle.

Gregor Steele has now uncrossed his legs

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