Welcome to a world turned upside down

27th February 2009 at 00:00

I can't think why, but no one has ever asked me to be their mentor. Given my years of selfless service to further education, I would have thought I'd be a natural to nurture the next generation of lecturers.

Just in case it should happen, though, I've been thinking through the advice I would give to my young mentee. For some reason, this always comes in the form of a dialogue. The poet William Blake had the ideal title to fit this exchange: Songs of Innocence and of Experience.

"So," says my eager young pedagogue, "how can I make a career out of this job?"

"How do you think?" I reply. Come on, I'm not going to hand it to him on a plate!

"Well, I'll have to do my job properly. Spend as much time as I can in the classroom. Plan, teach and mark to the best of my ability. Make sure the students come first and the paperwork and other stuff goes to the back of the queue."

I offer him my hand. "Welcome to the lifelong lecturers' club," I say.

"Is that so bad?"

"Absolutely not, but you asked me about a career, remember? If you want to be where the money and the kudos are, then forget about teaching."

"But what about these super-teachers I keep hearing about?"

"Only in schools, I'm afraid. Some colleges have tried it, but no one really has the heart for giving proper salaries to lecturers, however good or experienced they are."

"OK. So what should I do?"

"Turn it around. Aim to spend as little time as possible in the classroom. Have you any idea how many courses there are out there just waiting for you to sign up?"

"But if I'm on courses all the time, won't my students suffer?"

"Possibly. But who will know about that except you and them?"

"Surely I'll be held accountable for my results?"

"Well spotted. So make sure you only teach on courses without external assessment - there are plenty of them - then you are the judge of who passes and fails."

"What about starting an MA? Do you think that will help?"

"Bad move. No one is interested in helping teachers learn more about their subjects any more. The ideal lecturer now is one who knows very little, but very little about a lot of things. That way he or she can be shifted from course to course as best befits the budget. If you must do a masters, it's not an MA but an MBA you need."

"A masters in business? What's that got to do with teaching?"

"I don't think you are paying attention. We have already established that there is no future in the classroom. Business is where the high rollers in colleges get their inspiration these days."

"But I don't know anything about business."

"Don't worry. Neither do they. But they have learnt how to walk the walk and talk the talk."

"So that's what I have to do?"

"For a start, you should smarten yourself up. Throw away those loafers and chinos and start coming in to work in a suit."

"What will that prove? You can dress up a chimp in a suit."

"But you have to admit he looks like one heck of a smart chimp!"

"And talk the talk?"

"No problem. Just listen to your bosses talking. Notice how they never refer to students any more. It's always learners or customers or educational stakeholders.

"Steak holder? That sounds like a burger bun."

"Excellent, you're already talking the language of McDonald's."

"I'm not sure I believe in all that."

"Then you are in good company. Most of them don't believe in it either. But it's the thing of the moment."

"Hmm. I don't hear you talking about customers and stakeholders."

"That's true. But as I said to you earlier, welcome to the world of the lifelong lecturer!"

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