I’m no wizard when I’ve got my sorting hat on

24th August 2018 at 00:00
The enrolment of thousands of new learners inevitably brings high levels of confusion, writes Tom Starkey – it’s not unusual for beauty students to be directed to a butchery class

It’s almost enrolment time at my place. For a couple of weeks out of the year, the college transforms into a conveyor belt of forms and bodies, with people queuing into the middle distance as thousands of new students go through the challenging yet monotonous process of getting themselves on to the course they’re supposed to be on, whilst in a state of near-constant confusion.

This confusion is only intensified if any of the noobs makes the rookie mistake of asking me a question about pretty much anything when I’m doing my stint of supposedly helping the new batch, as I’m invariably as confused as they are (and, nine times out of 10, even more so).

I’ve accidentally directed hair and beauty first-years straight to the on-site butchers because I had my thumb over the last digit of a room number. I’ve sent electricians to social care. Media studies had three sports students in one of their introduction to level 1 courses for two days before anyone figured it out. And that’s when I’m really concentrating when I fill in the forms.

Stick me in the classroom and I’m fine and dandy – good, even. But plonk me in a melee of anxious learners asking me questions that I either have not got the foggiest about or ones that are so obvious that my natural snark response kicks in, resulting in them running out of the door crying, and it’s pretty clear that I am not your best human resource in these situations.

Which is a shame really, because I actually want to help. It’s a daunting time of uncertainty and expectation, and ideally the transitional period right at the start is one that’s smooth and warm and welcoming. And, believe it or not, I like chatting to new students (when they’re not asking me perpetually daft questions, like). I enjoy hearing about their hopes for the year and what they want to get out of it.

Enrolment sees students and staff alike interacting without the baggage of time; we are all learning the new steps of relationships that will continue throughout the academic year and beyond. Despite myself, it never fails to give me a sense of optimism about the future. We’re different versions of ourselves at the start of the year, not yet grown into the frame of familiarity, and there’s something about that newness that I’ve always found appealing.

So even though I’ll keep getting things a little bit wrong and no doubt with continue to sort obvious Hufflepuffs into Slytherin with enthusiastic incompetence, it’s still nice to be part of it. Enrolment signals a lot of things in colleges, but along with waiting three hours to get an ID card with a picture that makes you look like one of the uglier orcs from Lord of the Rings, it signals a new start. I’ll happily direct anyone to that.

Tom Starkey is a teacher, writer and consultant on education technology. He tweets @tstarkey1212

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