Thank God it's Friday;Talkback

8th May 1998 at 01:00
Monday: My college, with all its quality management initiatives and action plans, has finally seen where the future of FE lies: stress management workshops. Or rather Amanda, our counsellor, has been told to get the whole college back on its feet by offering free "individual consultations".

I visit her at lunchtime. Amanda listens patiently and makes discreet enquiries about my "key triggers". I nearly say quality management initiatives, but she has a hopeful look and we both need to keep up the pretence that the Enlightenment project isn't in vain. There are references to aromatherapy burners and we arrange to meet again next month.

Tuesday: The inspection crisis looms. Already we are being issued with twice-weekly directives to ensure our mission statement is fulfilled, the most recent being a resource file for lecturers on the use of videos in the classroom. This offers such insights as the need to be familiar with the onoff button and the importance of not standing in front of the screen. I do some deep breathing - as Amanda recommended.

Wednesday: There are new signs up in reception, from "Customer Care Interface" (girl at desk) to "Management Services" (porter behind locked door). I'm reminded there's an inspection visit today.

After a session with my tutor group I decide to put off going completely mad in the near future. I'd hate to be treated by the A-level psychology students - none of them seems to know who Freud was and several are think that free association is an up-and-coming indie band. On the other hand they do know where the best pubs are.

Thursday: Provide tea and solace in staffroom for Joan (childcare and hospitality), who has just had the much feared nursery nurses. She whispers that the dividing line between those doing the caring and those in care is a very narrow one, these days. We both smile at her ability to explore the possibilities of ironic detachment. Amanda would be pleased.

Friday: Acquire new English Access group. Enthusiastic students, but I notice that the syllabus begins with Blake, then Wordsworth, with a brief detour to The Color Purple. Why do we assume that Access students are the last of the innocents who can't wait to get their teeth into under-age chimney sweeps, people walking around the Lake District with no sense of direction and every type of abuse known to Oprah Winfrey?

Mention this to Derek, our course co-ordinator, and am treated like a pariah. I should have remembered that adults on Access courses are the last hope for defeated idealists (unlike most 17-year-old students with their interest in Trainspotting, cult murders and body-piercing) Start off with Shakespeare's Sonnets in childish spirit of rebellion. We look at cliched images of love and I get each student to produce his or her own version.

John, an ex-karate instructor, responds by telling us about last Valentine's Day when he sent 40 red roses to his girlfriend by Interflora, only to have them returned with all their heads cut off. General uproar as the class divides into those supporting John and those supporting his girlfriend and general discussion proceeds along lines of "Men and Women Who Love Red Roses Too Much". Perhaps violence and racism in The Color Purple would be less controversial after all.

Think of Amanda's advice and regretfully add Access class to my list of "triggers".

Malcolm Burgess is a part-time FE lecturer in Essex

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