It's not as sticky as liquid toffee centres...

22nd August 2003 at 01:00
BACK to school! The posters have been blazing from shop windows from the moment the summer holidays started. They're like a government health warning, in case kids overdose on happiness, in case they think the summer is going to last for ever.

Back to school! They summon the summer truants back to the classroom, the exclamation mark like a cheery wink or the tweak of an ear to send them on their way. And you? You look at the curt entry in your diary in very small writing: college resumes. No exclamation mark. No cheery wink. You knew you would have to go back one day but you didn't want to think about it too much.

It's a bit like taking a plunge into icy blue water. Fine once you're in, but at first you are gasping for breath. Not everybody, of course. My friend is different. She stays calm and unflustered. She has plants for her desk, and understands feng shui, while we prefer clutter and sheer panic.

We would hate her, but we know she's just a slow burner and that, just as we are all settling down and feeling in control, she will lose it and we will take turns to scrape her off the ceiling.

One of my former students is teaching in a school. "I'm just too tired to have a life," Jane complained at the end of the session. "I'm exhausted. I work, I sleep." Things get easier, I lied. It's only your first year.

However tough, it seems older people are flooding into teaching. South of the border, eight times as many 50-55s are taking up teacher training places and, as jobs for life become increasingly rare, teaching is now seen as the first choice second career. Apparently joining the profession is seen as "giving back something to society" and "doing something more creative" once you have made your fortune in the city.

Colleges are different, of course. They have always been staffed by lecturers who have specific industrial experience and who have spent time doing Something Else. I'm not sure, though, just how many entered the profession because of some altruistic urge, or because they discovered a longing to mould young lives like bits of playdough. Ask around and you find that most people discovered first an aptitude for making people enthusiastic about learning. That seems to me a pretty good excuse for entering the teaching profession.

You need a good excuse because you're mad to do it. My friend has a theory.

She says we have a hard time and that there are better jobs. If you were a librarian, for example, and you were having a bad day or coming down with flu you could probably go and hide among the books on 17th century devotional poets and sort them by colour or shape, and avoid 99 per cent of your public. Lecturers can't have bad days.

Sometimes to cheer her up, we play the list game at tea break. Teaching is better than working down a mine. Teaching is better than . . . Only we don't play it during the first three weeks of the session because there is always a deathly silence when nobody can come up with a comparison.

Then that feeling sneaks up on you when you're not looking. The feeling that you're enjoying your job. You're having fun. You're giving something back to society, you're being creative.

Well, hold on a bit. Let's not get carried away. Teaching is better than standing on an assembly line gluing the little white stars on top of those chocolates with liquid toffee centres where you use just a little bit of melted chocolate to stick them down and you're on bonus. Teaching is . . .

Dr Carol Gow lectures in media at Dundee College.

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