Hard-up v hard done by

14th December 2007 at 00:00

It's funny how adversity brings out the best in some people and the worst in others. You see it all the time with adult students. Many have to struggle on every front - particularly the single parents.

For a start they are perennially broke. Often they work long hours in badly paid jobs. There are the inevitable problems with schools, nurseries and childminders. Children get sick, requiring care during what might otherwise be study time.

At college they have to face up to past shortcomings and the resulting present insecurities. Fear of failure dogs their early months. Assignments come thick and fast. Committing themselves to paper is a nightmare.

But somehow they do it. Bleary-eyed they arrive in class after studying through the night. As often as not they are punctual. And their work comes in on time, not withstanding the shedding of blood it took to produce.

Bit by bit, day by day they get through their courses. And while there might be setbacks, somehow that just makes them more determined.

At the end of the course, their names are on the list of passes. They may not be top of the class, but their achievement is a real top class act. To teach them is to admire them.

Then there are others who at first sight seem just like them. Soon after your first meeting they take you aside and tell you all their problems - or "issues" as they are invariably termed these days. These are legion, and none are their fault.

When their attendance is patchy and work non-existent, those issues get another airing. And another. And another. They are disaster magnets. Whatever can go wrong, does. Or so they tell you.

Each time, you sympathise. When they've finished telling you their latest woes, you sit down and work out a recovery plan. But once you've been through this a few times, you begin to suspect that the real issue is not the issues but the person. Yes, they have problems, but rather than confront them they simply ride on the back of them.

Rarely do they last the course. Often you see them around college again the next year. And sometimes the year after that too. Drifting from course to course, they become serial non-completers.

Of course, the real hallelujah moment comes when someone in the latter category makes the transition into the former. Sad to say, it doesn't happen very often.

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