Happy Days are here again for apple-cheeked Lifers

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
We're only halfway through block three, but already we are lining up our prospective students for next session through a variety of "days"; Days in the Life, Open Days and Information Days.

Throwing our doors open is all very well, but our campus isn't exactly our best selling point. Graham Street, which houses our courses, sits squatly and determinedly just being itself, an old secondary school whose corridors still retain a whiff of old physics masters yelling at the boys to "walk, don't run" and whose classrooms recall claustrophobic Friday afternoons, the sun sending shafts of light through imprisoning windows and the dust of years from thousands of jotters and blazers, scuffed shoes and squeaky chalk dancing in the air.

Ghosts don't stand much of a chance in the building, though, because we are a noisy lot. Push through our front doors and you may hear the strains of a cha-cha or a quickstep from the afternoon tea dance in the hall. On the next floor you may hear gunshots and galloping horses as the media film class study the Western genre, or perhaps from the next room you'll hear the next Andrew Lloyd Webber composing popular music using computer software.

A Day in the Life gives third-year school pupils a chance to come into college, sample a course and think about future careers. I suspect what it is really about is bunking off school, trying on the persona of college student for size, visiting the canteen at break time to check out the talent and deciding whether you really could fancy a fine arts student.

What strikes me every year is how young third-year pupils seem. They are apple-cheeked, bright-eyed and slightly apprehensive. Often mum comes along to make sure son or daughter finds the right classroom door and ushers them right inside. Recently I have had a recurring nightmare - when mum gets them back they have metamorphosed into ultra-cool college students, dyed their hair purple, gone in for some body piercing and have had a mobile phone glued to their left ear.

There have been no complaints so far, but I always hold a briefing session with my students before they volunteer to help. "You are adults," I explained to the current HNC group, "and must remember that they are schoolchildren.

"Are they coming without their teachers?" one of my learners asked, shocked. "We never got to go anywhere without a teacher."

I explained a bit about classroom dynamics and teams. "If a pupil seems left out," I said, "if they're looking a bit isolated, then it's up to you to make them feel included - but subtly."

I must have been laying it on a bit thick because suddenly Joanne's eyes filled with tears. "That's so sad. I want to help. I want to be there for that person." So as well as worrying about releasing purple-haired rebels back into third year I'm worrying where I can find a suitable waif for Joanne to rescue and rehabilitate.

Despite a creaky old building, our students manage to convey that they like college life. When we throw open our doors, we hope that prospective students see not just the bricks and mortar but the personality of the place.

This week, at another Happy Day, our Open Day, I met four former "Lifers" who had visited us a couple of years ago. They'll finish school this summer and are set to join us full-time.

Not one of them had purple hair and so far there is no sign of body piercing.

Dr Carol Gow lectures in media at Dundee College.

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