Efficiency is fine if you forget about the students

24th January 2003 at 00:00
NO I'm not going to talk about resolutions. I am one of those people who, when I feel a resolution coming on, lies down in a darkened room until the feeling passes. My friend, though, is different. A new year brings a fresh set of the usual goals; quit smoking, quit drinking, quit eating.

The first morning back is spent listening to detox plans involving quite a lot of boiled cabbage leaves, and sharing sunflower seeds because I can no longer cadge a chocolate biscuit. The resolutions usually involve revolutionising the classroom experience, too, in three words - efficiency, efficiency, efficiency.

It sounds good. The more efficient you are, the less exhausting the job will be, she argues. Efficiency is a concept that works really well if you are exporting cans of beans, but when you are teaching in FE it is a weensy bit more difficult. Why? In one word - students.

Fired up after the break, I began organising the class on Monday morning at nine on the dot. I took the register, divided the class up for their talks assessment into three groups - those who hadn't prepared, those who would speak in the first half of the session and those who would speak from 10 onwards. Or maybe I should say 10 hundred hours because this was military precision.

When I paused for breath, a gentle voice piped up from the room: "Happy New Year!" It was said completely without irony. I'd forgotten to do the new year bit. It just goes to prove that efficiency never starts with a capital E.

Some words do have capitals, though. I remember discovering this as a child when my mother, who worked part-time in the local grocers, would stop and chat with someone when we were out together. "Who was that?" I'd ask.

"A Customer," she'd say, with a funny kind of emphasis, and I recognised that Customer started with a capital C and was Someone Special. In college, Student starts with a capital letter and if you forget that, you may as well forget about being a lecturer.

In class you may be wondering how on earth you are going to get through all of the assessment in one session, but Deanne is waving her left hand at you and grinning. So there is time to talk about her surprise Christmas engagement, hear how she couldn't stop crying, admire the ring and talk about wedding plans. Well no, there is not time, but you have to make time, and that is probably where the stress comes in.

You also need time to hear about students' placement experience: my pre-nurses meeting the real challenges of working with older people, my digital media students excited about working in design studios. Getting back into harness in January is torture, especially when the wrinklies who have spent Christmas with you set off for warmer climes, gaily promising to send a postcard and to see you in the spring.

For you it's back to work. It's cold, it's dark, and you're already halfway through the second block with all the pressures of assessment and the mountains of marking that brings. But you make a start. There are only two absences in class the first day - Jamie is modelling in the Space and Ellie's throat swelled up so dramatically she had to be rushed to hospital but is OK now.

By the time you hear the stories and have played your game of noughts and crosses in the register you've cheered up enormously. By tea break you can be pretty sure your mate has ditched the sunflower seeds and succumbed to two sticky buns from the canteen with the violently crimson jam in the middle.

One for you and one for her.

Dr Carol Gow is a lecturer in media at Dundee College.

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