No satisfaction

4th May 2001 at 01:00
I HAVE been teaching the same things for 16 years and I am bored. I am mechanically going through the motions and not giving, nor receiving, any satisfaction.

IF the excitement has gone out of your life, you could try several things. A new position might help; so might talking things over openly and frankly - and have you thought of experimenting with new and different stimulating material? In your case, this could mean trying a job-swap with a colleague, asking your students how they rate your performance, trying some new text books, or checking what is on the Web.

Coffins to die for

I AM the manager of a small firm of undertakers. We are famous for the craftsmanship of our coffins. My young trainees, who are on the modern apprenticeship scheme, spend one day each week in the construction department of the local college, but all they do is learn how to make windows. Am I right in thinking that college education is a waste of time?

IT does sound as though it might be. But you should talk to the college about how your trainees can learn the skills required to make coffins to die for. Ask about a system of recording what your trainees do when they are with you. Some colleges give their trainees reply-paid cards, to be signed off by the employer, showing what they have done on-site. These colleges then adjust the college programme to ensure it fills the gaps in the student's experience.

Home alone

FOR various reasons it is impossible for me to attend college and so I am trying to study at home. However, I am finding it increasingly difficult to keep going. I get distracted easily and feel isolated. I miss talking to other students. Can you help?

IT'S always tough being home alone. Perhaps you could keep reminding yourself why you started studying in the first place - the reasons must have been good and probably still are. One way to keep going is to list the things that you absolutely hate doing (cleaning the car, completing a tax-return or tidying the cupboards). Tell yourself that if you can't bring yourself to open those books, you will have to make a start on one of your least favourite jobs. Remember that Albert Einstein did all that good stuff about relativity because he couldn't abide the thought of cleaning his shoes.

Customer quandary

AS the head of a college's business promotion team I have a series of challenging income targets, which I am meant to achieve by selling courses to companies. These customers never know what they want, but they are always clear about what they don't want - pretty much the entire range of our traditional offerings to industry. How can we make money from such clueless customers?

YOU are nottrying to sell windows to funeral parlours, are you (see above)? You are, of course, repeating a piece of wisdomlibel about commerce and industry: "They can't tell us what they want, because they don't know." This is a slur on Britain's hard-pressed employers. Of course they know, and can tell you, too. They want top quality ("suitable for my company"), the right time (immediately or during the hours of darkness, or at weekends), and the right price (free). What could be simpler than that?


AS the assistant principal with responsibility for the curriculum, the governors have asked me to prepare a briefing paper on how the development of colleges as centres of excellence will affect us. Since I am not sure what the policy on this is, I am having trouble doing the paper. Any advice?

YOUR college is among the remotest in the country and the one furthest away from any other. There are more sheep than people - at least there were until recently. You are, therefore, in a different position from that of, say, an inner-city college, where potential students have a lot more choice about where to go if colleges begin to specialise. The truth is, however, that there isn't really a policy at all.

One dull morning at the Department for Education and Employment, someone seems to have decided that beacon schools that specialised in subjects such as music or languages were a hit and that the same scheme would do for colleges. So, up popped the secretary of state, out came the idea, and off went the hare.

Will centres of excellence mean rationalisation? Will they mean more money for good, disseminated practice? Are they to be created where a college wants recognition or because the Learning and Skills Council decrees it? Will the idea survive the general election?

Don't ask the audience in the DFEE - much like Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther, they haven't a clue. And don't bother phoning a friend, unless it's Tony. It's 50-50 that there will be no clear answers to any of the questions.

No end in sight

THE same curriculum issues come round again and again. Liberal studies, social and life skills, key skills, and enrichment have been assessed separately, within the main qualification, and separately again. They have oscillated between optional and compulsory. Modular structures come and go, coursework waxes and wanes. Where is it all leading?

IF you saw the film Ben Hur, you will remember the chariot race. Round and round they went, as fast as they could, creating a whole lot of anxiety and tension, and a lot of damage. The word "curriculum" originally meant "race chariot". So it's all the fault of those pesky Romans.

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