Friday, 21 January 2011

Old chairs, a new Principal and chocolate cake

My son has secured a massive number of followers to his 'School Life' blog with his hilarious accounts of daily activities, or should I say, mischief, in class. So I thought I'd better keep up and, although I can't see me managing a daily post, I will see what I can do each week at least.

The highlight of the week in Further Education was the new Principal wandering in to a 9 o'clock class. Luckily he left it until 9:30am but there were still only 7 people in the room. I hid the register which showed a list of 12 names under my scarf. By sheer chance I was wearing a smart suit and looking respectable compared to one colleague who had not only had a long night out on the tiles but appeared to be wearing the same clothes still! Not that you should judge by appearances, of course.

The new chap's first impression would have been of a highly animated lecturer performing around the the room in great style. What he didn't realise was that my animation had been brought on by my amazement at the blank expressions and 'Please don't ask me' faces I'd got when I woke them up to ask what they thought might be a problem with a file that called itself kamasutra.pps.exe - disregarding the obvious. "OK," I tried, "what's the .pps bit?" Blanks. Finally I got one person to mumble PowerPoint when I suggested it might be something like .ppt. As for .exe, well, the nearest I got was "Excel, Sir?"

Hey, these were not just Computing students but 2nd year, Level 3 Computing students!! Well, one wasn't. She was doing 'A' levels and tends to come into my classes for some reason best known to herself, probably entertainment. They really should have been taught and learned what those extensions were all about by now. They had only just the previous week completed their UCAS applications and one had already had an offer or two. Hope it was for a Cookery course or something. Anything but Computing.

The original question had been about the news that day about a new trojan doing the rounds which I thought I'd talk about while the latecomers got out of bed and eventually arrived. The arrival of the Principal saved me using words that they'd have needed a medical dictionary to interpret accurately and saved them further embarrassment. He seems a nice enough chap but I was rather disappointed by his first words which were the dreaded Health & Safety. Some bottles had been left from the night before on desks and he was concerned about drinks and computer equipment. I thanked the Lord that he hadn't appeared at the 1pm session when you can seldom see the desks for ASDA bags, cups and plastic trays of foul-smelling lunch.

I also adjusted my scarf to cover my coffee cup.

He then said something about someone's bag perhaps not being best left on the desktop either before asking them how they were all getting on. "What would you like to improve?" he asked. "Good." I thought. "A chance for them to tell him how lousy the furniture and decor is." Someone said something about wanting extra sessions. I even picked up a chair and held it up behind him, pointing at it frantically to try and get them to say what I wanted them to but without success. I can't imagine how stupid I must have looked but there you go. I did try. Every single chair in the room had a broken back. Not just the plastic cover bit that dangles at right angles to the back and catched you just where you'd prefer it hadn't when a student whizzes round as you pass, but the whole damn things seem to have been built out of cardboard and cloth that dissolves in ASDA salt and vinegar crisp fumes.

The week ended with me staying with a colleague in our office until the caretakers threw us out. She has been struggling with an assignment for her PGCE for weeks. It looked so tediously boring and she didn't seem to have much of a clue where to start with pretty abysmal notes from her tutor (from another institution). She hadn't attended many lectures (or if she had attended she hadn't been particularly attentive, I suspect. You know, female, early 20s, phone, friends . . .they all tend to be more interesting than some lecture.) But there was nothing of much value in any of the notes she'd been given and no on-line stuff either. We had to start at square one. I think I managed about 3000 words in 3 hours which wasn't bad going. The poor girl had to try and find references for all the statements I'd made but did a reasonable job until she got hungry and chocolate cake interrupted the search. On the way we encountered some definitions of a whole range of curricula. the language used by the author was diabolically obstruse, almost as if she wanted it to be impenetrable and so appear so academically Level 7. Now I like to think of myself as pretty good with words but these definitions had me stumped for quite a while. Once we'd managed to dissect what the woman was actually trying to say, one or two were quite interesting. there was a null curriculum which appealed to me. It was what we don't teach. What we leave out of a course of study. Loved that one. I didn't think much of concomitant curriculum, though, and began to wonder why we have this need to use obscure words as some form of short term or expression when it would be simpler by far, and much more likely to be understood by students such as my friend, to say something like what is taught or gained from experiences in the home.

Anyway, the point is that such dreadful work turned out to be really quite refreshing after all as I was forced to have to explain ridiculously weird expressions by making up examples almost on the spot (she was an impatient girl) and many of them did feature chocolate cake. I do like a challenge from time to time.

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