The only lectures I've given were to my kids

17th April 2009 at 01:00

Why are further education teachers called lecturers when most of them will never be called upon to deliver a lecture in their lives?

No doubt there is someone out there who can come up with a definitive answer to this question - in the same way that someone, somewhere presumably knows why a curried fish dish should habitually be referred to as Bombay duck - but until it happens, all we can do is speculate.

Perhaps it is the vague connection between further and higher education, where the one-hour lecture - despite all the research pointing to the fact that the student brain decants to la-la-land after a maximum of 20 minutes - is still common. Some HE work has always taken place in an FE setting, and the biggest of the post-school teaching unions, the University and College Union, draws members from both camps.

Clearly, too, it is historical. When I came into the job in the late 1970s, there was an assumption that working in FE was somehow slightly superior to school teaching. You were paid a little more (oh, happy days!) and the students were thought to be more compliant and amenable than those in the recently formed comprehensives. "Oh, that's a good job," people would say when you explained what you did for a living.

Even then we didn't give lectures as such, but "college lecturer" had a certain ring to it that you were happy to have on your passport.

Sadly, today any cachet the sector may once have had has long gone. "Well, somebody's got to do it," is about as good as you'll get from strangers now. And with salaries around 10 per cent below those paid in schools, maybe we get to keep the lecturer handle merely as compensation for our position as educational paupers.

Certainly that is the way it works in the commercial world. Where bosses are too tight-fisted to pay the real rate for the job, they make up for it by inventing extravagant titles for their employees.

I once worked for a company that had the technique off to a tee. I was a temporary secretarial assistant and one of the people I had to "take a letter" from was an export clerk. He had seemingly slept through most of his English lessons at his minor public school and would have had problems writing a note to the milkman, let alone a full letter. But his actual job title was director for European operations.

So, for all that your deputy principal dreams of one day joining the Russell Group, forget the university parallel. Lecturers we ain't. Our style is much more akin to that of the schoolies. Awash as we are these days with their rejects - otherwise known as the 14 to 16s - we have to fight to get and hold attention just as much as they do.

Thinking back, I reckon the only real lectures I have delivered in 30 years of FE teaching are the ones I used to direct at my own kids.

One of these was a real favourite - a favourite of mine, that is. It was trotted out whenever I heard them using a Cockneyism such as "Blimey" or "innit". As a teacher of linguistics, I couldn't find it in myself to just clip them around the ear while shouting them down with a well-directed "Speak proper!" Instead they were treated to the "all language varieties are equal, but some are more equal than others" lecture.

This would begin with a definition of standard English, calculated to enthral every self-respecting six-year-old. From there I would move on to regional variations and the ignorance of categorising 90 per cent of speakers of their own language as "wrong". By the time half an hour had passed, I was possibly beginning to lose my audience. Occasionally they might still be awake by the time I came to the pay off line: linguistic equality and social inequality.

"Blimey, Dad," they'd sigh, "why can't you just tell us to shut up?"

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