Chronic case of Sisyphus

7th July 2006 at 01:00
Sisyphus. It sounds like a disease but is, of course, that unfortunate character from Greek mythology condemned for eternity to push a heavy boulder up a hill and every time he got near the top, it rolled down and he had to start again. Sometimes principals must feel like that.

Now that colleges are not about education for all, but training for all, some are rewriting their mission statements. Such statements used to contain lots of "A" words - achievement, aspiration and so on. Or else it was "E" words - education, excellence, endeavour. Now the buzz is flexibility, frugality and figures, figures, figures - too many "F" words.

I walk past the boardroom and there are the senior managers, contemplating this latest boulder. But I'm off to my own form of torment: supporting students in an IT class.

I love IT. I spend far too much time in front of my own computer and can't think how I would exist without it, but I don't like to move too far out of my comfort zone. I have never bid on eBay, ordered groceries online, or searched for my name on Friends Reunited. After all, who wants to be reminded of how the years have flown, or even worse, to find that nobody you ever met wants to get in touch with you again?

But I must try to keep up, and now we've got something new to grapple with: Moodle.

This is a space within the network where you can create interactive course materials. You can store worksheets, incorporate video clips, do your record keeping, and give access to the students, so they can catch up on lessons they've missed or information they have mislaid.

I'm usually a bit suspicious of anything the IT tech-heads describe as "powerful". That sounds as if the program has more potential than anyone yet knows what to do with. But in the spirit of life-long learning, I signed up for a training day. I was quickly lost, and could see that I would need to spend a substantial chunk of my holiday trying to set up anything useful, so I decided to keep my head down and see if Moodle would go away.

I knew it would not when I got to the IT class last week and found Bryan checking Moodle to see when his assignment had to be completed. Nothing in the world, bar a computer, could induce Bryan to check up on the dates for handing in his work.

But today, Bryan is not at his desk. He is in the middle of the room, spinning as fast as his computer chair will allow, with his hands clamped over his ears. When I manage to catch his attention, bring him to a halt, and prise his hands off his head, he reveals he is demonstrating to his peers that if you put your hands over your ears, you don't go dizzy.

It hasn't worked. Bryan is not only dizzy but also feeling rather sick, which may be something to do with the half-empty box of jelly babies lying on his desk. Biting the heads off jelly babies is Bryan's favoured anger-management technique, and he appears to have consumed quite a lot of them. I ask what's gone wrong and he tells me he is on a verbal warning, just because one of the tutors came in and found him sitting on a filing cabinet with a traffic cone on his head.

"Are you going to give me another verbal?" he asks plaintively. "No Bryan, if you annoy me today, I am going to give you a written one."

Byran empties the remaining jelly babies down his throat without stopping to decapitate them first.

Bryan comes to us courtesy of a local comprehensive, on that brilliant scheme someone devised for allowing secondary schools to send their more vocationally-oriented pupils to us.

It is hard to think what Bryan's vocational orientation might be. Because he comes from school, Bryan insists on calling all the female tutors "Miss", unless he is really concentrating, when he is likely to call us "Mum". Somewhere out there is, perhaps, a woman who loves Bryan unconditionally, from the tip of his logo'd trainers to the top of his chequered baseball cap - but it isn't me.

As soon as Bryan is old enough, I think I'll suggest he applies for a place on a public services course - they'll sort him out.

The public service students do a lot of physical training, so they have their own minibus to take them to outdoor pursuit venues. Their students decided to haul this minibus for charity, over eight miles and up a big hill between the two campuses and they raised quite a lot of money by their efforts. The minibus has a logo emblazoned on the side: Defendere et Minstrare. Now shouldn't that be Greek?

Gill Moore is a basic skills lecturer

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today