Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My first and last day at college

I’m spoiled. When I think of college, I think of this. I attended and taught at Brevard Community College the year before I moved to England. I didn’t have any problems with students accept plagiarism and attendance. I had an office to work in, a textbook, a helpful Department Chair, and a pleasant atmosphere. I’ve taught at other colleges in Florida that weren’t State funded, and I still had resources and support. This is sadly not the same situation at all colleges.

The description of Further Education for the United Kingdom is not very different as Community College is for the United States. So I don’t understand why a student’s attitude would be so poor if they know they have to attend a class that they pay for in order to get a degree that will give them a job. Students who are in vocational training aren’t English majors, but from the experience I had in Florida, they could be really disinterested but maybe two out of 50-60 students would be rude. Most of the time they just didn’t attend class, and I would have to keep attendance to make sure that they didn’t fail due to absences.

That job that I had gotten last week, was what I thought I really wanted. It turned out to not be at all what I expected. As the old saying goes, sometimes you do get what you wanted and you wish you hadn’t.

Here’s a description of my first day:

I was told to report to the school at 9AM so that I could be introduced to a couple of teachers who could help me out on the first day. My first class was at 10:30.

I was introduced to a Teacher #1 who was Head of Communications or something. She discussed with the Head of English who I should talk to and who could maybe help me. First took me to the HR department to get a name badge first, but they were too busy. Then we went to another building to find a Teacher #2 who maybe knew the students I had and what I should be doing with them. She didn’t.

We wandered around various rooms to find another teacher who maybe had the students before and knew what they should be doing.  She didn’t either. In fact, she looked confused and nervous about why they were asking her to help me.

I was taken to the Learning Lab and left with Teacher #3. She allowed to log into a computer with her password, even though they discussed I shouldn’t be doing that but they had no choice because, “it takes forever” for a new member of staff to get a log-in. I was told over and over that the school “Doesn’t want to do formal inductions,” so I was just going to have to look within the resources they had on the college server and find something to do with the students. I stayed on one computer while Teacher #3 went to log into a separate computer. I heard a random woman (apparently the lady who runs the Learning Lab) that, “Excuse me, but you’ll have to do that somewhere else. Those are computers to man the Learning Lab desk.” Great. There’s my welcome.

Teacher #3 found a cupboard full of English resources like hand-outs and diagnostic tests. She also found a cabinet full of binders that had the last two weeks work from the students. I was their third teacher since the start of February.

I left the computer I was logged in to after I realized I couldn’t even print from it, set my bag and coat on the table. I started trying to pull folders and hand-outs out to find something, anything, to do with students I had that morning. I was never given a textbook. Never given a curriculum.

Learning Lab manager woman walked up to me:

“Excuse me, how long are you here for?”

Me: “Um, in what sense? All day? All term?”

LLM: “I mean are you based at this campus?”

Me: (checks watch to see that I’ve been on the job for 30 minutes without pay) “Yes.”

LLM: “Well, I know it’s your first day, but we’ve been trying to work with the English Department because there is no staff room, but this is a Learning Lab for students. You have to keep the computers free and nothing put on the tables.”

Me: (blank stare) “Right.”

Couldn’t she have given this b.s. to me on Day 2 at least?

After I got some supplies, I went to my classroom at 10:20, but a class was already in there. There was no where to sit, so I had to just hang out in the hallway and wait for my students to arrive. When I saw Teacher #2 walking around with two students, I heard her asking, “So you’re not usually in this room, then?”

The schedule was wrong and we had to go to an empty classroom on the ground floor. They also had a nice, older gentleman from the Learning Lab who was a Support Assistant. Teacher #2 just left him to help me with my class of 2 students who were English as Second Language and travel agent majors. The only thing I found that was potentially a good first lesson was with some exercises on apostrophe use and then, to kill time, a diagnostic test that I found in the cupboards.

I asked about logging into computers in classrooms but they were only student computers and I needed a teacher computer to access the resources.

After class, I tried to figure out what I could do for my afternoon lesson of catering majors. Since the Learning Lab was off limits, I had no where to sit. The cafes and hallways were packed with students and every teacher who I talked to was happily sitting at a desk, eating their lunch. I had to sit outside in the frigid air to talk to Steve on the phone where I told him how I could already tell this job was a bust. I eventually went to a cafe after the kids were back in class and bought a turkey sandwich. By that time my hands and butt where so numb from sitting on that bench, I didn’t care where I went as long as it was warm.

When I went back up to the Learning Lab to find a lady, Teacher #4, who had my classes the week before half term. She told me about how bad the students were and how mad they get when you try to give them work. At a college? Really?

Oh yes. When I arrived to my afternoon class of 10 catering students, five boys sat there being just plain rude. They wouldn’t call me Suzanne, they thought Suzy was more funny. They listened to music on their phones, had earbuds in, headphones on, talked, sang, cursed at the work I gave them. All of this stuff is totally normal when you’re covering a class for a day at a Secondary/High School but at college?

There’s something that snaps and when you see how disrespectful students are going to be, the knee-jerk reaction is to lay into them and kick them out of class. But that’s for high school. This was a college! One student even sat there chatting away on his phone during my lesson and asked if he could leave class early because he had to pick up his kid. My response was, “Aren’t you an adult? If you have to be somewhere you know, don’t you?”

The rest of the boys eventually slept and didn’t attempt to do any kind of work whatsoever. One student did help me with the projector and the got the dimmer for the classroom lights (you need a remote from an office to dim lights in the classroom for some reason), I’ll give him that. I had another student in there who had special needs so I had to make the work be as visible as possible on the screen. (That poor student, without a computer or a printer, how would any teacher ever be able to give her the proper material she needs to see?)

Anyway, I let the class go 10 minutes early since they weren’t doing anything anyway. I went up to the Learning Lab to ask Teachers #2 and #4 who had all sorts of papers to grade all on top of the Learning Lab tables but no one said anything to them about it, I might add. I asked them how much of a witch I could really be with the students. The answer was, “Not much.” They’re supposed to be adults and we have to treat them as such but they’re still underage so they have to stay at the school until 4:30. They aren’t even paying for classes, it’s funded. Fabulous.

By the end of the day, I tried to find someone to give my attendance too but no one knew how to do it (not even the English department.) I asked about having a place to work and they said, “Oh, there’s this lounge here. You have to just try to get a computer when it’s free because we have too much staff and not enough resources.” You’re right about that. Six desks with five people from another department I’ve never met or seen before and I’m supposed to muscle in and try to make myself comfy whenever I need to do my lesson plans? What if I go in there at 8AM and it’s busy? Every place else was because people scrambled to find empty computers where they sat parked for most of the day.

Upon research I read that the school had gone down in ratings within the last few years. They had even been reported for escorting school inspectors off the campus! Steve said just by looking at the place he could tell it was a crummy place to work. The buildings are old and dreary. The walls are all brown and the ceilings are exposed concrete. The students and staff didn’t seem happy to be there at all either.

Long story short, I didn’t go back. If there’s no place to sit and work, no materials to use, no discipline in place, and the pay is only for the time I’m in the classroom, I just can’t be bothered. I want to work, but within reasonable conditions. I don’t mind helping people but teachers need some essentials to get any kind of learning done. This job lacked a lot of basic essentials.

I tried to phone the school to even leave a message with someone this morning but no one had voicemail. I didn’t have any email address other than the main one listed online, so I just told them I wasn’t coming in and to let the Head of English know. I thanked them for the opportunity and all the help they gave me on the first day as well. I didn’t want to go in today, knowing I wouldn’t be able to do anything. Even if I got to campus early, there was no where to plan out my lessons. I don’t think any teacher should be expected to conduct class that way. Oh well, at least I know now.

It’s after 4PM now and I’ve not heard from anyone.  I doubt they even know I’m not there.

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