22nd November 2002 at 00:00
Don Short, agony uncle, answers your questions.

Dietary dilemma

IHAVE stressed to my team that the need to stay well during term time is essential. Too many hours are lost each year with sickness-related absence. I have even taken it upon myself to deliver advice on diet and natural preventative medicine, but some in my team will not take my advice and have complained that I am patronising and solicitous.

This one makes the papers each year. The bugs that cause these illnesses tend to thrive because of air-conditioning. Also, in the winter we tend not to open classroom windows, disallowing proper circulation. A poorly nourished workforce will not survive, but can managers dictate their employees' habits outside of college, even if those habits have an impact at work? Staff training days might be used constructively to foster awareness about health and illness.

Hello, goodbye

DURING the summer, two ICT staff left, one to take up a job in a local school, the other into industry. During the holidays my colleagues and I prepared an advertisement published in the papers but have yet to fill the posts. The few who applied did not meet the high standards that this college requires.

The best new teaching graduates are simply not persuaded to join the FE bandwagon and who can blame them. Your pages paint a bleak picture with more apparently set to leave. I might join them.

I am still bewildered by government policy in this matter. Recent funding pledges will probably not go far enough to stem industrial action. Joining a sector that is in dispute over pay is not an attractive proposition even if the hello is golden.

Porn or art?

IAM struggling to deal with the content of one of my student's paintings. I have lectured for many years in art and design and never before felt the need to take action. This issue has divided staff and students in my department, some of whom feel the offending works should be removed and the student censured, while others uphold the belief that art is beyond notions of decency. The work is graphically sexual and violent.

My first concern would be: is it appropriate to intentions and sufficiently backed up to meet the course criteria? I am against censorship but I am also against bad art. The work of this student must be constructively challenged as you would any other student's. Amendment and review should follow. If it proves to be simply a desire to produce pornographic images, that can be done at home.

Spooky language CAN I open my mouth without worrying? No, I can't. Can I say "blacklist", for example? I don't know. It isn't a resigning situation, is it? Public service has become an act with a severe spotlight. Fluff your lines, the prompt points to the exit.

In Philip Roth's The Human Stain, an eminent New England professor naively refers to two students who never turn up for his lectures as "spooks". He means ghosts, but it is taken in the pejorative sense (the students are black) and he eventually resigns. Sadly, this fiction is a reality, as recent events have shown. Sense will prevail one day.

Phone abuse

IHAVE noted with interest over the past year questions relating to mobile phones. My dilemma concerns controlling their use by staff. Traditionally, personal calls on college lines are frowned on, although in some cases deemed necessary.

Now staff can carry phones all the time and often set a poor example to students who are required to switch them off. I made it quite clear to my staff that having a phone on in class is unacceptable and that use outside of class can present a barrier to students wishing to approach them informally. I have met with some aggressive opposition, notably from staff with children who have given out their number for emergencies.

Certainly, phones should be off when teaching, although, as so many of us have discovered to our embarrassment, we often forget. Policy towards carrying and using phones should be clearly set down in the staff handbook and any breaches should be reported.

It would not be untoward to tell students to name and shame culprits. No exception should be made, but staff with children should be reassured that any emergency calls to the college will be passed on immediately.

Disaffected youth

I USED to enjoy my job. That was when FE was an exciting forum for mainly adult learners keen to learn. Now I find myself inundated with disaffected, foul-mouthed teenagers passed on by schools as a result of more government interference. Lucky for the schools that they can cleanse themselves of society's misfits - unlucky for FE. Prison wardens have an easier time.

However unpleasant, we can no longer allow young people simply to disappear from the educational map only to find them reappearing in the magistrate's court. Innovations in FE must, however, be matched by readiness and training. Clear rules as to conduct and clear bonds with the schools involved must be a prerequisite.

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