The Post Formerly Known as ‘I don’t do modesty…’

In London the term ‘mojo’ is bandied about a lot, as are several other choice terms you know (and use) well. ‘Mojo’ is, at least, a term with something close to a glorious history, unlike ‘Deferred Success (“You haven’t failed, Smallings, you simply have deferred success!”)’ and ‘A Chocolate Elton (“I’ve eaten so much; I feel like I’ve eaten a Chocolate Elton!”).’ Whether it be you sex life (and I mean your’s as mine isn’t up to much) or job satisfaction, everything that makes you you can be ascribed to a mojo… Or lack thereof.

My mojo is teaching, it seems. I actually already knew that in my mind of minds but, what with a serious illness last year. I’d forgotten its power. For I am a man reborn; my mojo, previously gone to ground, has re-emerged. Such a pity, then, that my teaching job is half way around the world and not mine for at least another year.

My rebirth pretty much occurred four minutes after the Critical Thinking course I laboured to overhaul began to be taught without me. The old cliche goes that you only miss something when you haven’t got it anymore; friends become more important the less you get to see of them and, it seems, courses become much more vibrant when your back is turned.

But my back is not entirely turned. Being in tune with nature, a certifiable idiot savant and ‘on the ball’ I’ve fixed a number of issues with several of the first lectures this semester by use of the electronic telephone and numerous etheric waves betwixt here and there. I had made sure that when I left the lecturing materials we had used were so pristine that you could submit them as part of a teaching portfolio (which won a prize, just not for me). Issues, however, get raised; files fail to work on new machines or ou find out that a character you played has had to change sex due to staffing issues.

Then, of course, are all those new ideas that you never had time to implement. Except that now I do. Not that I’m abusing my time in the office, it’s just that some ideas need more time No, I fixed new and exciting issues that were mostly the creation of a new computer running my digital presentations.

The upshot of which is that I really need to be teaching at the moment.

London is a big city and big cities have numerous teaching institutions. I’ve applied for a number of adult education roles (I’m very fond of adult education, mostly because of the students but also because its educational first aid (due to the state of the secondary education sector)). The semesters here are different to ours; just as ours map summer (albeit badly, as I am sure Jack will attest to; why we suffer the children to sit through sweltering February in a classroom I do not know) so do those in the UK. We’re in the middle of term here and new teaching positions don’t come up until the middle of next month. A little known fact but I have teaching experience in all three educational sectors (with Primary being my least experienced) and I was delighted to find that Philosophy is a proper A Level subject here, with a curriculum and everything. If I had the time outside my current job to go out and teach Secondary School Philosophy I would; the course structure is most pleasing and secondary teaching is a very different (but no less nor more difficult) challenge from that of teaching students in the teritiary sector. However my new boss, lovely as she is, will let me out for evening classes but needs me in the office during the day. Pity really; brokering a phone call between my boss and Billy Zane in the middle of class would have given me much by the way of kudos.

Anyway, all of the above is really just me saying I’m already missing teaching and I’ve only been off the job for two months.

Teaching is by no means an ideal profession; survey results in the UK indicate that only 8% of teachers across all sectors get any form of enjoyment from their work (surveys; got to love them, especially when they don’t give sample sizes or error margins). Now, whilst secondary school teachers get all the angst-ridden kudos of the pedagogical profession tertiary educators have their issues and worries too. We have the usual student-related woes (will they come to class, why id this promising student do so badly, why are certain groups underachieving so consistently…) Most of our ‘unique’ issues stem from the fact that the secondary sector is a wreck, educationally, and that we are forced to spend most of our time (in the undergrad portions of our jobs) teaching students vital pieces of information such as historical context of ideas and thinking skills. None of this is the secondary school teachers fault, per se; it’s the system that doesn’t really work. Seven years of secondary education and it’s so compartmentalised that many of its years are repeats of the same material presented only somewhat differently.

(An obvious retort to this what I’ve just said is that the tertiary sector is, at least partially, to blame as well. I agree; we’re hardly on the ball when it comes to changes in the other sectors and we move at pace that even glaciers would think tardy when it comes to our our updating processes. However (there’s always a however, isn’t there?) the tertiary sector has parity; our qualifications must remain interchangeable with institutions overseas. Anyone who has done a BA (or is in the process of doing a BA) can transfer to almost any other undergraduate teaching facility. It took the sector a while to get to this stage and any changes to it to fit into a nation’s secondary education sector would be disasterous if the parity was lost. I’ll take the obvious counterexamples to this comment at the end, thank you.)

Our other issue is the Government. Academics are usually regarded (rightly, I will admit) as being left-wing but the current New Zealand Government’s teritiary policies have chronically underfund universities in the way that the previous National Government did not. This isn’t a New Zealand-only problem; the UK is suffering educational cutbacks that even the Tories would never have imagined. We have a situation where the Right would be more likely to fund a course in Samoan than the Left would, and that shows that it’s ‘crazy time’ for the traditionally left-leaning academics, who are beginning to wonder exactly who to vote for (easy answer; the Left, but voters tend to worry about their jobs and Labour is threatening the Ivory Pagoda and its population). Now, Labour is clever; they have linked funding increases to the CPI (correct me if I am using the wrong acronym) when this isn’t even remotely a good indication of how University costs inflate. That and the PBRF, which was, admittedly, a disaster for everyone, and I’m talking as a former member of staff of the country’s second-best department. Performance based reviews sound like a really good idea, but what exactly performance is and how it is quantified has turned out to be a real bugbear, going utterly against what the Government thought would be the common wisdom of the day.

Tertiary sector jingoism rant begins: Universities are research institutions that deign to teach; they are the ivory pagodas because it is their purpose to research. Not for commercial interests, not for practical reasons but simply because knowledge is important and knowledge begets new knowledge that may or may not be of interest to one and all. To be sure, commerical interests should be involved in the funding of universities; every telecommunciations giant wants to be the first company to deploy broadwave internet, and what better way to get their by helping to fund a Department working in related areas. In the same respect Governments need to be involved because some projects will never look viable; no one thought Protestantism was going to be as mildy successful as it was; private concerns only get in the act and help fund the associated workethic well after the fact.

In the same way, to maintain the delicate balance of teaching and research we need to ensure that the students we take in to teach know enough to be taught properly and will, given time, be whittled down to the precious few who will repeat the cycle… Rant somewhat ends. When I return (which, if my mojo keeps its spirits up, will be sooner than I expected) I shall be sure to get on the band wagon that is actually doing something concrete about getting Philosophy into schools. I turn thirty in a year and an half. I’d like to think that by then my choices will make just a little more sense to everyone involved.

Because, you know, learning is good, and discovering that helping people to learn makes you feel good is even better. Sometimes lessons like that have to be learnt the hard way.