Monday, 20 August 2012


Today began week two of the busiest course of the year. We’re putting some five hundred students through the five weeks of academic square bashing known as a pre-sessional. It’s fraught, sweaty and exhausting. In every classroom you could scoop flabby wodges out of the air and serve them up as junket. I had two days off last week with the summer cold from Hades and am still itchy-eyed, achy, snotty and sneezy and very much Not In The Mood. I’m even more irritated than ever with weather forecasts that would have us ‘basking’ in this muggy heat. ‘Basting’, more like.

Courses with five hundred students are always rather chaotic. Everything takes more time to complete than has been budgeted for. One day last week I reduced the lunch break to half an hour so as to cram in a brief overview of the course aims and assessment and to read the riot act about lateness and absence, all between police registration and a tour of the library. As I was returning early to class to start this, a young colleague was approaching. Her veil covered her hair entirely, her garments revealed no flesh. As befits a Muslim lady in Ramadan, her demeanour was gentle and modest. ‘It was a right bloody load of fucking shit this morning’ she said evenly. ‘We got sod all done.’ But we’re British, we muddle through.

‘Steve, why you giff me only fifferty-two bercent for my bresentation?’ Hamid asked me as I was returning to class in another building after lunch with only two minutes to spare.

Hamid, do not ask tutors to justify the mark they gave for a presentation they assessed three weeks ago: you might as well expect past-life regression.

‘I have here’ he said, pulling out his smart-phone and bringing up a photo of my feedback sheet reduced to the size of a bus ticket.

‘I can’t see that, you must be joking!’ I said, and made vague noises about discussing it later. I hope he’ll forget, but doubt it. What the hell makes him think I’d remember anything about his presentation out of the seventeen or so I assessed in two days three weeks ago? I don’t know if it’s a complement to me or a sign of megalomania in him.

‘My presentation, I wan discuss abow litre on chaining’ a young Chinese boy told me later. Litre on chaining? It took me a minute or two to think about that and conclude that I hadn’t a clue what he meant. After an embarrassing number of requests for repetition, I had to ask him to write it down. He wants to talk about ‘return on training’.

Unfortunately for us, our unfailingly cheerful and highly efficient administration officer is moving on to a job down the Smoke next week, and apparently we are getting a new admin person who is to be joined by a ‘front-runner’. ‘Front-runner’ is management-speak for ‘mug’, i.e., a young person who is being offered the once-in-a lifetime opportunity to do all kinds of office drudgery for no remuneration. Somebody should be walking around rather stiffly from having shoved this ‘job’ where they might justifiably have been told to shove it, but nobody is that I can see.

Students submitted their essay plans for feedback today. I wrote comments on seventeen of them on the train on the way home. Most are reasonable, if over-ambitious for a thousand words. I have a lovely, enthusiastic Chinese PhD student who seems to have submitted an outline for her thesis. On the opposite side there’s this:

  • In this essay, firstly the situation will be mentioned.
  • After that the problems and causes will be discussed.
  • Finally the issues will be carefully examined and deeply analysed.
Imagine we were running a catering course and the task had been to plan a celebratory Sunday lunch for a family birthday. Would this have been sufficiently informative?

  • First I will be serve a starter
  • Next I'm put a main course (various things)
  • Finally it is a dessert

    What do you reckon? Should I just append a red tick, and see what she comes up with?


    Candy said...

    Oh God, I feel quite delirious and faint. The thought of all that tartrazine and benzoate the you have to plough through; the ramblings and wrenchings of the language into something utterly unrecognisable; the placatory justifications; the head banging frustration of it all. Pour yourself a gorgeous G&T. Wish I had a solution, or effective therapy of some sort. By way of empathy, I have a student who REFUSES to accept that we WILL NOT guarantee his TOEFL result and won't pay us until he gets over 100,(he is with us for 6 weeks and smokes and chews gum), a student who challenged me this morning and said, "You are Candy, no? You are head of school? I hear from boss you no like Russians", and a Spanish chap whose dentition needs total overhauling before I will understand a single thing he says. That's three of the six we have this week. Jayzeezz. I need to find someone to support me.

    Vilges Suola said...

    Re G&T, if only - got some red, and would love a gin or a screwdriver, but will have to wait for the bonk holiday.

    At least I get away at 14.50. Do you till have to breakfast,lunch, dinner and socialise with your lot?

    Nik_TheGreek said...

    Varia indeed... I'm sorry for you.

    Candy said...

    Oh yes. Well breakfast and teach til 3.30 then bollocky paperwork and dealing with 'head of the school who doesn't like Russians' stuff, like trying to make them pay.......bonk holiday? I should be so lucky.

    Vilges Suola said...

    Hi Nick, thanks for the sympathy - I actually intended 'varia' with the Latin meaning of 'miscellany' rather than the Greek meaning of 'heavily', although in the end it isn't really a miscellany, just a long moan about the course, which is indeed vareto.

    Having breakfast with one's students - cannot get over it. Breakfast is absolutely not to be communal for me. I'm up at 5.30 even though I don't leave the house until 7.55, just so as to have this time alone.


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