To stay fresh as a teacher in FE, don’t sweat the big stuff

19th May 2017 at 00:01
As one college-veteran friend retires, ground down by the system, another arrives wide-eyed and excited – a timely reminder of how invigorating the work can and should be

I’m concerned that I’m approaching my teacher best before date. I stumbled into this FE thing because one of my friends, a 30-year FE veteran, guided me toward the profession she loved, when I had hit a low patch in my life. I was highly suggestible in that vulnerable state and did as I was told, obediently signing on to a level 5 diploma course at my local FE college. I often wonder where I’d be now if she’d been a nurse or a lawyer.

In the nine years since, my friend, one of the most and skilled teachers I have ever known, took voluntary redundancy. Area reviews led to her sprawling college merging with another, even bigger one, and as the clattering mayhem reached a crescendo, she wanted out.

She is no longer a champion of the sector and sees it as a dismal failure.

She believes that its place as a political afterthought has created a landscape of clueless corporate managerialism. She says that this, twinned with untenable funding cuts, has removed the ability for those of us on the front line to do our jobs. She believes the biggest victims of this abuse are the students.

I’ll be honest, her stance – which I don’t necessarily disagree with – has put a strain on our relationship. There are vast no-go areas of conversation.

I feel far more optimistic about the sector. That said, my rose-tinted specs have long since been replaced with a pair of prescription lenses and I can see clearly. But is sharp focus the most helpful thing to have when some aspects of our profession are based on, if not a suspension of disbelief, certainly a suspension of logic? My friend is right. There isn’t enough time or money for us to do our jobs properly. Does “making the best of it” demonstrate resilience or consent to victimhood?

I am concerned for myself. While I delight in my community-education role, I’ve felt jaded about the whole FE college thing for a while. My knackeredold-bag status is even clearer to me thanks to a colleague’s attitude to her work.

She’s a brand new FE teacher, excited about pedagogical discovery and eager to experiment with what she is learning. She is compassionate, seeing the best in students, even when that best is heavily and purposefully cloaked. She works the longest hours, even though she is no doubt on the lowest rung of remuneration. She is what I was, and holds an unflattering mirror to what I have become.

I don’t want to be one of those festering moaners who should have long since hung up her lanyard. I still have so much to learn and I believe I have a lot left to give. My challenge is to find a way to rekindle the desire to enthusiastically participate. To get excited about being a small cog in a vast college machine. To carry on, I know I need to cast off creeping disillusionment over the big stuff and concentrate on what drew me into the profession. I think the answer might be education. My own.

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands, and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons

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