I awoke to find myself transformed into a lecturer...

19th April 1996 at 01:00
Franz Kafka wrote in Metamorphosis that "as Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect".

With me it was worse - I found I had been transformed into a college lecturer. As I went to bed the night before a principal (and chief executive), the experience was interesting.

First I noticed there was a lecturer's wife lying beside me. I had given up going to bed with lecturers' wives, so something extraordinary had happened in the night.

"You look different, dear," she observed, stepping demurely into her pink Hawaiian-style mules.

"I think I must have had a knock on the head, it's making me a bit forgetful. "

"Obviously." She took the suit I had selected, smoothed the worst of the creases from the trouser flares, and returned it to the wardrobe. "You only ever wear that old thing for funerals and job interviews. Not that there's much difference between the two these days as far as you're concerned."

I stared at the baggy khakis and blue denim she handed me instead. "I can't wear these. I'll look like some son of college lecturer."

"Yes, the neighbours often say so. But you always wear them when your Wranglers and Fair Isle sweater are in the wash."

I thought I'd humour her. Lecturers' wives can be tricky customers if crossed.

She took me out to where the car was parked. It looked like the sort the national vocational qualification level 1s practise their bodywork skills on.

At college I picked up my mail. It took me a while to work out how to open the letters for myself, but as soon as I saw my lecturer's payslip I rushed to personnel. "You have paid me my expenses instead of my salary."

"Oh no," said the young woman at the counter. "That's what you usually get."

"But there's so little of it!" "You're lucky you've got a job, the principal says."

I was beginning to wonder about that principal. And I didn't fare any better when I went to meet my colleagues.

At first I thought I was in the wrong room. Where were the state-of-the-art computers? The framed prints of Van Gogh's sunflowers ? I checked the door again. I was in the right place.

Inside six or seven people were slumped over desks, toiling through huge piles of paperwork. "Excuse me," I said, "are there any lecturers present?" Half a dozen weary heads lifted from their labours. "But how do you manage to get all this done and your teaching?" I asked.

"What do you think evenings are for?" said one.

"And weekends," said another.

"Look upon it as an opportunity to avoid boredom as the principal always says," added a third.

The time had arrived for my first class. I found them jammed inside a tiny box-like room. Strange how much bigger the number 25 seems in the flesh than when typed into a spreadsheet.

I tried giving them a couple of self-learning packages so I could get on with assessing last week's work, but some wanted more. One or two even expected me to teach them something!

Three hours went by in a flash. Back in the staffroom I complained about how much there was to get through. "Yes," said the woman at the next desk, "it's such a pity about the hours we lost in the last round of cuts."

"But what plonker would cut back teaching hours when there were so few already?" She gave me a wry smile.

In the canteen the food and the conversation was hard-boiled. "Don't you ever talk about anything except how much work you've got?" I asked.

"We're college lecturers," said one. "What else is there to talk about?" By Friday night I was feeling decidedly fatigued. "What do I do now?" I asked my wife.

"You go to The Flowerpot pub to meet your friends."

"Any FE lecturers among them?" I asked wearily.

"One or two. You spend the evening whingeing about new contracts and old conditions of service."

"But I've done that all week."

"You should have thought about that when you decided not to go for any more promotions. With luck you could have been a principal by now."

"You don't say?" I mused, not a little regretfully. "Now, there's an idea. "

Stephen Jones is a London FE college lecturer

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