Out of joint

31st May 2013 at 01:00

With age comes wisdom. Or so we are told. And experience too: surely that must be invaluable for a teacher in the face of adversity? So, with more years in the classroom than I care to remember, who could be better placed to deal with a few educational slings and arrows?

Having devised my lesson the previous year, I simply needed to dust it down and give it a tweak or two. The task involved showing my class of adult students a YouTube video on language acquisition and getting them to take a coherent set of notes on its content. It seemed that nothing could go wrong. But last year I didn't have Rowena - a student with severely impaired hearing - in the class.

Luckily, she alerted me to the possible problems a week before the class. "Excuse me," she asked, with her usual opening phrase, "does the video have captions?"

Ah, yes. Captions. The truth would have been "no", or "possibly", or "blimey, I'd forgotten all about that". Instead, I assured her that it would all be sorted out by next week.

And, by the purest of good fortune, it was. Checking the multiple versions available, I was relieved to find that one of them was indeed captioned. I played a section through. Yes, it was the real deal.

The class began. The lights went out, the video rolled and the students scratched away with their pens. Everything was fine - for the first two minutes, at least. Then there was a pause in the speaker's delivery, followed by a part that just didn't make any sense.

I fast-forwarded and spotted other gaps. The video had been edited and deletions had been made with no regard to coherence. What to do? As I knew the material well, I started to try to describe the missing section myself. "Excuse me," Rowena said, "I can't hear what you're saying."

I usually communicate with her via a transmitter that I wear around my neck. There was another delay as she handed it over and I got it working. Then I attempted to describe the narrative. Through the murk, I could see the rest of the class drifting away from me.

"All right," I said, a note of desperation creeping in, "I'll play the original version."

"Excuse me," Rowena said, "how can I follow it without captions?" Sweat broke out on my forehead. Then, a moment of inspiration. "I'll hang the transmitter over the speaker," I said.

Rowena gave me a look of deepest scepticism, but it seemed to work - until the video stopped altogether. When I looked again, I realised that it had been posted to YouTube in two sections and the first was at an end. "Oh shit," I exclaimed.

"Excuse me, I can't hear what you're saying."

I turned abruptly and leaped for the transmitter. There was an audible click from a region near the base of my spine. "Aagh!" I shouted. "Excuse me," Rowena chimed.

Crouched in the semi-darkness, clutching my lower vertebrae, I declared the class over. Perhaps age doesn't bring wisdom after all. But it sure as hell brings arthritis.

Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a further education college in London, England.

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