Thursday, 12 April 2012

Mature Times

I thought I'd try my hand at writing an article.

So I wrote a piece about a little-known actor and sent it off to a newspaper in Canada. Having received no reply after a few weeks I sent it to Mature Times, the magazine for the over fifties which you can find in most libraries. They hadn't room for it in the paper but they have put it on their website at www.maturetimes.co.uk/leisure-and-lifestyle.html. It is dated Thursday 12 April 2012.

Those of you who are (ahem) old enough may remember the guy. He was a star of the first TV programme that I can remember and I still have the hardback annual from 1958.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

My Taxes, My Rules

The unseasonally warm weather last week meant that most of the students spent their spare time outside. (I suspect that many of them should have been in lessons but that's another matter). This left the main building feeling like the Mary Celeste with empty corridors and a deserted student lounge. My fellow supervisors thought this was great but I wasn't so sure. I'd rather have them all cooped up inside where I can keep my eye on them.

The alfresco lifestyle brings its own problems. I've had to confiscate footballs and skateboards as well as warning some of them about water pistols and frisbees. There are ample playing fields at the back of the college but the picnic areas seem to be the preferred spaces for larking about. You would think it was a primary school instead of a sixth form college.

There must be something in a teenager's head that makes them query every reasonable request to behave responsibly. Maybe their brains are wired in such a way as to cause them to question everything. Perhaps it's evolution's way of ensuring that the human race progresses and never becomes satisfied with the status quo. Being a firm fan of creativity, I can't really complain too much about their inquisitive nature. I believe, however, that it's important to channel their curiosity into something that is productive rather than rebellious. I'm not a teacher or a student counsellor so I try, in my own small way, to use my experience of the outside world to apprise them of the expected code of conduct. After all, it's our taxes that are paying for their time here.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Caught In The Act

Because of the way the college building has been designed I can look over the balcony from the top floor and see what's going on three floors below. This is very useful when trying to keep an eye on things. I do have to avoid jumping to conclusions though.

A few days ago I was at the Arts Department end of the college. On the ground floor is a theatre and sometimes rehearsals spill out into the corridor outside. I looked down from the fourth floor to see a young lad lying on his back with a girl sitting astride him. Now salacious displays like this have been going on under the stairwells and we've had to put a stop to it but I quickly realised that this was all part of some drama. After a while the lad spotted me staring down at him, threw me a lewd smirk and gave me the thumbs up. He seemed well pleased with his choice of curriculum.

A few days later, from the same vantage point, I spotted some students arranging a few tables together. One of the girls then lay down on top of a large plastic sheet and allowed her colleagues to roll her up inside it and place her precariously across the tables. Curious, I continued watching while a couple of lads read from their scripts. It appears that the girl was meant to interrupt their dialogue by throwing the sheet aside and exclaiming something. Unfortunately, the first thing she saw on bursting out of her cocoon was me, whereupon she forgot her lines and said, “Ooh! There's a man looking at me!”
And there was me thinking that the whole point of being an actor is that you want people to watch you.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

A Satisfactory Outcome

A couple I often see around college are quite distinctive in their manner and appearance. I often see them around the recesses and stairwells doing things to each other that really shouldn't be seen in public.

The other day I had to go outside and remind them that smoking is not allowed at the picnic tables and that they should remove themselves to the smokers' area at the corner of the main building just a few yards away. This they did without fuss and I considered that to be the end of the matter.

Less than ten minutes later I spotted them, still smoking, at the same table so I went outside and asked them which part of my original request they hadn't understood. As they had so openly defied me I also asked for their names. The lad mumbled his and I managed to catch it on the second attempt. The girl was more reticent and kept asking me why I wanted this information. My intention was to check the database to see if they had a record of ill discipline but I didn't feel inclined to explain this until she had surrendered the information. A condition of attending the college is that all students respect the staff. Eventually she told me and I went back inside.

About ten minutes later I was in the refectory recalling the incident to my own supervisor when the couple approached us. They wanted to apologise and wondered if I was taking the matter further.

Result!

I told them I had no intention of reporting it any higher and explained that my annoyance was due to their ignoring my original request. My supervisor also explained to them that the college is required in law to have a designated smokers' area and if any student is found in breach of the rules a letter and a fifty pound fine can be sent to their parents. At this they appeared horrified and explained that they had become engaged in a conversation with some other students and had drifted back to the picnic area without realising. A lame excuse I thought but I let it go. I haven't had any more trouble with the pair since.

Monday, 2 April 2012

There May Yet Be Hope

I was in the student lounge on the top floor when I spotted a lad who I've had confrontations with in the past. I was certain he should be a lesson at that time so I checked on the database and found that to be the case. I decided not to challenge him until I was sure. Sometimes we get fobbed off with 'I'm feeling ill', 'I don't have to be there', 'I'm doing coursework' etc.

I went down to the ground floor and checked with the teacher.
“Yes he should be here,” she said. “And I'm pretty angry with him.”
“Would you like me to drag his sorry carcass down here?” I asked.
“Yes and tell him from me he's in for a damn good bollocking.” (Her exact words.)
I vowed to do my best, bearing in mind that this particular chap is quite a large individual, has been quite surly with me and the other supervisors and sometimes looks like he might get violent.

I found him still in the lounge sitting with his mates. I was quite prepared for him to refuse to cooperate, in which case I would have to point out he would be making things worse for himself. It also crossed my mind he might punch me.
“Mr ***, you need to come with me.”
“What's this about?”
“I'll explain on the way.”

To my surprise he followed like a lamb. As soon as we were outside the lounge I informed him.
“Your English teacher sends her regards and is very much looking forward to seeing you.”
At this point he cottoned on and began making his excuses. Apparently they were having a test. He hadn't done the work, was bound to fail and just decided not to turn up.
Then I told him the truth. “Actually, I think she's going to roast your ass.”
I suggested that it would have been better to have seen his teacher and come clean. He admitted that might have been the wiser option.

This was amazing. This was the first proper conversation I'd had with this guy and he seemed quite chatty so I decided to try and connect with him.
“So how is the photography going?” (I know this was on his timetable.)
“I've dropped it. They told me I was no good at it.”
“That's a shame.”
“Well, I didn't do any work for that either and I missed a couple of photo shoots.”
“So what are you concentrating on if not photography and not English either, going by today's evidence?”
“Nothing. I'm leaving at the end of the year. I'm going to be a barber.”
I didn't see that coming. I told him I would be sorry not to have the pleasure of his company next year. I meant that sincerely. I'm sure he could do well at college if he applied himself but maybe he'll make a success in his chosen career. He might even change his mind and stay on – just to confound me. I wished him luck and left him to face his teacher.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Still Loving It

I'm still loving my job at the college and it's giving me an insight into the surprising ways people behave. You expect them to do one thing and they do another. As a writer this is fascinating.

Having spent most of my working life in industry this is a completely new environment for me and I'm having to try and find my own way of coping with the challenges it brings. I've found myself applying the rules and boundaries that I learned while I was a rugby coach and referee. If I ask people to do something (or, more often than not, stop doing something) I expect them to obey more or less straight away. I don't mind them querying my motives but I expect their body language to indicate that they intend to comply with my request. If they just stand their ground and argue the toss this makes me less inclined to be tolerant.

As it is now the Easter holidays I thought I'd share some of the incidents with you over the next few days to give you an idea of what we have to cope with.