Working during the holidays? Actually, it's ACE

Working in adult and community education often means no summer holiday – and Sarah Simons wouldn't have it any other way

Sarah Simons

If you work in community education, you often don't get the summer holidays - but teacher Sarah Simons doesn't mind

Finally, the summer holidays. It’s time to pop your red pen down and your trotters up. While you lot spend your downtime off your nuts at some bangin’ beach party, or for the more refined among you, perhaps Capability Browning it up your back lawn, some of us have got to go to work as usual. That’s right. Poor me. Poor, poor me.

One of my teaching jobs is community-based and doesn't run on the same term-time schedule as my college teaching jobs – essentially, there are no scheduled holidays. The service users (I loathe that term but it’s the correct one to use) at my Friday place are all adults with learning disabilities who live in supported accommodation or with their families. For many of them, the day service they attend is their main source of social life. To be fair, the day service where I teach is one of my favourite sources of social life, too.

Background: What is the key to ACE success?

Quick read: 'Boost adult education spending or the UK will lag behind'

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The place is very relaxed about me taking time off when I need to, but as I'm not going away over summer I may as well carry on seeing my Friday pals as usual. Also it’s a good excuse to spend some time with my 15-year-old. He’s been helping me out at this place during his school holidays for nearly three years and does a wonderful job there. The gang love him and welcome him as part of our Friday family.

A mishmash of projects

I'm supposed to be teaching drama, but we’ve changed the title to "creative arts", which basically translates as "whatever we fancy, so long as our work together is meaningful, stimulating and we all have fun". It’s brilliant having so much freedom, and we've found our own routine. Regardless of the session’s content, we always start the class with everyone sharing their news – what they’ve been up to since last time I saw them. There are about 12 regulars in my group, so this time gives everyone a chance to speak, and helps to bring focus to the room.

We spend the first half of the year doing a mishmash of projects. For example, I lugged my massive food mixing machine into work a few weeks ago and we all made pasta from scratch and had lunch together. Another time I hid rocks with exercise instructions on around a trail in the nearby park and each person got to teach a move to the rest of the group.

Throughout the second half of the year, we devise, plan and perform a piece of work that we’ll showcase for friends and family in what has come to be a week-before-Christmas tradition. After our stage production of Mamma Mia!, and our film projects including favourite music videos, our version of Doctor Who, and last year’s The Wizard of Oz, today we started filming a new project.

Sometimes it’s a real conundrum to keep coming up with new ideas that are going to be ambitious yet possible, with characters and content that are familiar to the group but which we can make our own. 

Lights, camera, action

The quality that we all have in common in this group is a sense of humour. And it really helps that we know each other so well. I know what to do or say to cheer up members of the group, just as they know how to make me smile and sometimes cry with laughter. So, it makes sense that our productions should capitalise on the capacity we have to make each other chuckle.

I've stumbled upon a corker of a project this time (and, yes, I am right up myself about this idea). We are making our own versions of trailers of our best-loved films. I know. It’s a right laugh.

As well it feeling like a Friday morning of mucking about with my mates, it also ticks a lot of teaching boxes:

  • Autonomy: we spent a lot of time discussing favourite films and why we enjoy them, putting them in lists of genre, creating a long list, considering how we could replicate bits from them and, ultimately, everyone choosing their own.
  • Promoting leadership: each person helps to direct the film they have chosen and are treated as that production’s boss.
  • Individualised creativity: each person takes a designated performance or production role, in which their talents and interests are championed.
  • Confidence: the group take for granted now that they will see themselves on a cinema screen at the end of the year, and we’re working towards that. They trust that I've learned enough about film-editing to make them look good. So many of them are fearless in their performances so we gain confidence from each other.  

This morning we started filming our first trailer: Titanic.

We filmed the Kate Winslet-gets-her-kit-off-paint-me-like-one-of-your-French-girls scene. After our Rose whispers those words, we cut to her posed on a makeshift chaise longue in stripy top, beret, string of onions round her neck and clutching a baguette. I know, it’s pure 1970s gag-wise, but it made us all shake with laughter.

Next week we’ll be filming our Rose and Jack, running down corridors with buckets of water being chucked at ‘em. We don't quite have the same budget as James Cameron but what we lack in funds we make up for in enthusiasm.

So this morning, while you were sunning yourself, I was working. (It was ace).

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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