I asked colleagues how long one is expected to sit waiting for students to arrive before dowsing the lights and getting the hell out. Fifteen minutes was the consensus. But then suppose just as you were gleefully hightailing it out of the building, you met a single student coming in the opposite direction, (fuck!) late with a legitimate reason. You'd be forced to return to the classroom, reboot the computer, get all your bloody books and papers out again and resign yourself to trying to drag language out of a lone Trappist for an hour and three quarters. With a colleague who uses the same room for the same purpose, I discussed tactics for escaping unnoticed:
- The windows don't open very wide and in any case appear to give onto an enclosed area, so forget it. You'd have to climb back in - and think what an unteacherly figure you'd cut to any arriving student, stuck there like a trapped burglar.
- There's a long, narrow corridor which is a definite risk: there'd be no chance of avoiding an approaching undergrad unless perhaps you were wearing a burka, which really would be taking it all a bit too seriously.
- The corridor successfully negotiated, you could go up the stairs, across the first floor and down the staircase on the other side of the building...
- ...then you'd have to get your head down and charge through the brightly-lit entrance hall like a spider tear-arsing across a living-room carpet before reaching the escape-hatch of a back door that can only be opened by staff with swipe-cards.
In the event, five young Chinese ladies show up. Not as good as none, but better than one. They greet me cheerily but as always, once the lesson is underway they revert to the downward gaze and shy whispering that for them betokens modesty and respect but drives me scatty. We are doing presentation skills this evening, something they have requested, because they have presentations to make. The usual Chinese ploy is to write out the entire presentation, commit it to memory and then recite it. We spend a lot of time telling them not to do this: it makes you sound robotic, your written text will be denser than spoken discourse and thus more difficult to decode, and an unexpected interruption can put you off your stroke and once you have lost your place it can be hard to remember where you had got to. Fear of grammatical error dinned into them at school makes them reluctant to comply with our instructions, though. So this evening we make notes on the whiteboard for a chunk of presentation, and to their horror I require each of them to come out to the front and present the material from the notes only. This they do very well, so the atmosphere lightens. They have, as requested, brought with them the presentations they are working on. Thank fuck for that, because I am getting fed up of everything having to come from me, and the material I have brought is thorough but dull as a vodka and tonic without ice.
I call a five minute break. There's no teachers' room to retreat to, so no chance of tea. I take the lift to the third floor, walk down the stairs to the ground floor, go for a pee and, having thus exhausted the opportunities for diversion that the building affords, return to the classroom. I'm hoping for a buzzing, workshoppy hour with the girls collaborating on their presentations.
Lydia shows me her PowerPoint presentation. We reduce the amount of text on her slides and I persuade her to come to the console and present a bit of her work. This she does, and I give feedback.
'When are you giving the presentation?' I ask.
'I make last week,' she says.
Right. The thing is done, graded, fed back on, dead. They will not be making any more presentations this year. Nothing I did this evening was of any immediate use.
Never take anything for granted. Never assume that students see the logic in teachers' questions and suggestions. Check all your instructions even if you fear you are treating adults like morons - and this is my greatest fear.
Let's go home. There's gin and tonic to come.