Bow to the all-powerful

23rd January 2015 at 00:00

Who's in charge of your college? I know you think it's the principal, but it's not. It's not the merry-go-round of management either.

There are individuals with immense power, hidden in plain sight, who can determine whether your college is an inspirational shrine to learning or a dystopian hellscape. These holders of the keys to our happiness are not always aware of the authority they command. But it is essential that we know who they are and behave accordingly - by which I mean do everything possible to stay on the right side of these mighty gods.

Of course, I'm talking about the car park attendants.

If you get to work several hours before you need to then you're laughing, but should some crack appear in your morning routine - such as your child announcing that they are meant go to school dressed as a Tudor three minutes before you leave - then you have a problem.

You arrive at college 30 minutes before you're due to teach with photocopying still to do. The car park, designed to hold a quarter of the vehicles it needs to, looks like a scene from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Then you see him, standing guard next to a flimsy barrier, shielding a glut of empty spaces reserved for people more important than you. You chance your arm, knowing there's no other way you'll get to class on time.

"Could I possibly just pop my car in there for an hour? And then I'll come back and move it, I promise."

The response can make or break your day. I've resorted to fake crying and I would have gone further.

The next persons of note are the security guards. Their level of importance depends on where you work. There's no trouble in my current college, but I have taught in places where the risk was so high that I was given a security walkie-talkie when I was on my own with certain groups. In one memorable workplace, two burly blokes had to be in the room at all times.

My favourite security guard was a tiny woman in her fifties who commanded more respect than anyone I've ever encountered. She could break up a fight with a low 40-a-day growl.

Now imagine the most complicated game show in the world, with rules that change with every turn. The prize is your students sitting the right exam on the right day at the right time. After finding a hidden corner of the secure drive, you must print four copies of your list, highlight students in orange, draw an asterisk by their names in green, handwrite all the information on to blue paper, deliver the copies, then whisper the secret code.

My friend swings by his exam department with chocolate. He knows when all the team's birthdays are, such is their power to make his life easier. It's a cynical move - and one I wish I'd come up with.

There are other key players inside college walls: receptionists who know the whereabouts of all 2,000 staff at any given time, the good folk in estates who dish out the best classrooms and, of course, the kings and queens in IT support.

Treat them kindly and with respect. They hold the keys to our happiness.

Sarah Simons works in FE colleges in the East Midlands. @MrsSarahSimons


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