Hands up if you're not unhappy - please

3rd July 1998 at 01:00
HELLO. I do not know you and you don't know me. But the one thing I do know is that you are out there. You must be.

Who are you? A lecturer in a college of further education? Or maybe a sixth-form college - or you are in adult ed? Whatever, you are one of us - one of the multitude: the forgotten, the despised, the downtrodden.

Or are you? Because if you really are the person I think you are, then you are not like the rest of us at all. In short, you are the one lecturer in Britain who is happy in your job.

And I want to meet you. I really do. It will be like Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter. Only instead of sweet nothings it will be sweet somethings you will be whispering in my ear.

First, though, I think that term "happy" needs further definition. On reflection, it could be asking too much. Stand up and say you are happy in your work these days and immediately your boss will be thinking "this person could do more".

So let us turn it around the other way. Define the positive by the negative. Let us say you must be not unhappy in your work. Is that such an enormous amount to ask?

Now the question arises of what you need to qualify as a "not unhappy" lecturer. Maybe we should start with money. None of us came into the job because of it. We may only be lecturers, but we are not totallystupid.

Still, you will need to pay the mortgage and put food into the mouths of your children, so not unhappy must surely mean that you receive at least a reasonable reward for the efforts you make on behalf of your employers.

And your workload, too, must be reasonable, with not too many of those irksome make-work tasks that produce only blather and more paper. Stress may be a part of your life, but you must not find yourself half way through each term standing on the edge of a deep pit into which you fear you are about to be propelled. And while you might have classes that stretch you, there should not be so many of them that you feel you are constantly on the rack.

Then there is that boss. We all know that bosses tend to be, well, bosses (and that these days they inevitably come with titles as long as your arm and the word "manager" stuck awkwardly on the end). But your boss also must be like your salary and your workload: reasonable. Someone who will not pile work on you just because someone is piling it on them. Someone who will occasionally fling a word of praise your way and not constantly leave you with the impression that however much effort you make, there is still room for more.

And surely you must feel that you have succeeded in clinging on to some semblance of academic independence. That you are treated like a grown-up rather than a child. And that you are recognised as a professional teacher able to exercise your own judgment about professional matters and not have every decision concerning your work taken by a set of noddies who live in some educational Toy Town where students never venture and meaningless jargon is the only language allowed to be spoken.

So is that you? Could it be? Are you that one special person who can go to parties and talk about silver linings rather than silver books when asked that most seductive of questions: 'how's work?'.

Maybe - and here is a really daring thought - there are more than one of you. Maybe I've got it all wrong. Maybe the people I work with or meet at conferences and workshops are not, to quote the pollsters, a representative sample. And that all those diatribes from Bingley to Bognor that appear with such depressing regularity in the letters pages of the NATFHE journal are really just the products of the fevered imaginations of the union hacks?

After all, if there is one such person, why shouldn't there be 10, 100, 1,000? Would that be too much to ask for, spread out amongst the 450 or so colleges across the land? Just two lecturers per college to sign up for that "not unhappy" designation.

But no, let us be reasonable. One is enough. We do not want that railway waiting room to be too overcrowded. And I do want to meet you. To hear how things are for you and why they are so much better than they are for all the rest of us.

If you do not get in touch, what must I conclude? That really, truthfully, amongst all those tens of thousands who earn their living by lecturing in Britain that not one is willing to own up to finding contentment in their work.

And if so what might it tell us - one year into a new education-orientated government post-Kennedy, post-Ward, post-Hodge - about those weary foot soldiers whose job it supposedly is tocarry the flag of FE into the new millennium?

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