Them learners have got me under their spell

21st February 2003 at 00:00
I SEE there is a huge dispute over the copyright of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? A Fife man says he came up with the idea in 1995. I want to lay claim here to a pretty good idea myself. It's called I'm a Good Speller, Get me Out of Here and here's the pitch.

You take someone who has been schooled the old-fashioned way until they are as reliable as a dictionary and then you drop them into a further education college and surround them with scripts to be assessed. You subject them to a diet of "artical", "collage", "vehical" and "writting" and watch their ability to spot the errors decline from an immediate decision to complete paralysis.

At that point, they will admit defeat and ask for the rescue helicockter to be sent in pleese. Keep it to yourself, though. I don't want the idea stolen before I've made my million.

But would I give up my day job? This month has been a rewarding time. I have spent all year trying to educate my Tuesday class about appropriate behaviour. "You're irrepressible," I said, exasperated, to Steven. He looked a little pleased, so I sent him to the dictionary to look it up.

Mollified, he is showing some signs of charming behaviour. "Will I go away?" he offered helpfully before I even asked him to stop hovering round my desk twisting the paperclips into cute animal shapes.

Sending students to pore over the dictionary seemed to become a habit this week. The word "avuncular" popped up in my Thursday class. I mentioned that there didn't seem to be a female equivalent and asked why not. The following week, one of the group came back having spent a whole afternoon in the library with the full Oxford English Dictionary and a magnifying glass.

There is an equivalent - materteral, which is pedantic and was used only once, in the 1800s. So there. I would say something banal here like you learn something new every day, but I better not because I laughed when Janet said exactly that in class yesterday. She's a student, after all, I told her.

I realised how long I have been in the day job last night when I went along to see the HNC student's production of Kafka's The Trial. There were lots of former students milling about. Luckily most of them seemed to be schooled in the art of approaching lecturers and introduced themselves with military precision: "Hello, Joe Anderson, 93-94. You taught me communication." Two of them are now teachers.

Sue loves her job teaching drama. "They always moan about the written work.

I thought we were doing drama, I didn't think I would have to do English, said as if it's some kind of nasty tasting medicine." It sounded sweetly familiar. She said the same to me at one time.

For everyone who moans, there is occasionally one who enjoys the sense of achievement. One of my young learners took an urgent call in the corridor but came bounding back into class mid-conversation, waving her mobile. "My mum's going to have a baby. I'm going to be a big sister!" Laughter, tears, hand waving. The whole class was caught up in the drama.

"And Mum - guess what," she said, revealing an instinctive understanding of the climactic pause: "I've just passed my Com 4!" More, laughter and tears and hand waving. Just an everyday tale of college folk.

So anyway, you're the first to hear about I'm a Good Speller, Get me Out of Here. A big money-spinner for when I want to give up the day job. But not yet. My spelling may be undermined, but I can always use a dictionary.

Dr Carol Gow is a lecturer in media at Dundee College.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today