Writing courses: How to prevent your classmates hating you

Writing Classes by Tom NashThe old saying goes that everybody has a novel in them. Many of us like the idea of recording these ideas but lack the skills needed to actually transfer the thoughts to paper (or screen these days), let alone craft a meaningful narrative that others would happily pay to read.

Luckily, there are people out there that work in publishing or that have successful writing careers of their own who love the craft so much that they are willing to share what they know with enthusiastic folks like us in classes- whether they be college or university courses or more informal affairs.

I’ve been lucky enough to take part in a fair few writing classes and, being the observant and altruistic chap that I am, have decided to put together a lickle list of tips that could be useful if you are thinking of getting your scribe on in a classroom setting and you would like to avoid the chance of your classmates bonding through their mutual hatred of you:
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Facebook: Schoolmates on your friend list

Facebook by Tom NashIn a post I wrote in November 2010 about people you are obligated to have on your Facebook friend list, I detailed ‘The past schoolmate’. This entry focused on bullies and those they bullied, without even acknowledging the myriad of relationships, social groups and class issues that went hand-in-hand with everyday school life in the UK’s state-run comprehensives.

This post should rectify that oversight.

So, here’s a wider selection of people from high school that you may have on your Facebook friend list:


The cool kids
During your schooldays, you would’ve given anything to be them. Somehow they managed to make rocking school uniform look good and they got attention from girls/boys that you could only dream about. Now look at them; no career path to speak of, still going to the same clubs they were going to at eighteen and constant updates on their depressing relationships through barely literate statuses.

I actually encountered a ‘cool kid’ I went to school with a little while back who was pulling the classic ‘I need twenty-p for a phone call’ crack-head routine at the bus stop I was at…

Still want to swap places?

The hot girls
When you were a hormone-riddled adolescent, these ladies were the most lusted after females in the school, other than the obligatory foxy student teacher that they didn’t let near the 5th years (that’s Year 11 to you youngbloods). Before the creation of Facebook, seeing how these girls turned out was the only reason to go to a school reunion. Now there is no reason- you can see just how orange, leathery and aged they look these days from the comfort of your own home.

The fat kids
Unless they were already unnaturally aggressive in their early teens, this person was the butt of many a joke throughout school. Being stabbed in the arm with a pair of compasses to find out if they ‘bleed gravy’ was a weekly, if not daily occurrence and generally they had life made very difficult for them, usually by The cool kids. Chances are they ain’t fat no mo’! If they are male, then since school they appear to have been living in the gym, probably doing so for that chance encounter with those who gave them so much shit years before. If female, there is a possibility that they have since blossomed into…

The late bloomers
Maybe they wore the unmistakable fragrance of urine, maybe they had to deal with acne outbreaks or unsightly body hair, maybe they were just a bit odd looking, having not quite grown into their teeth or something, so they were therefore never considered as a potential humping partner throughout your schooldays. That’s all changed. Now they look good and both you and they know it. If they are male, they will take great pleasure in working their way through the ladies that were once unattainable. If they are female they will take great pleasure in rejecting all the fellas that wouldn’t look at them twice ‘back in the day.’

The nerds
Still quiet in the background, these were the kids who weren’t necessarily good looking and didn’t shine during P.E. lessons but passed every test or exam and got all their work in on time. Well, they’ve kept up this work ethic and have been steadily climbing up the career ladder for years now.

Friend requests from The cool kids are usually accepted for their pure entertainment value. Games like:

  • Guess who thought procreating would be a good idea?
  • How many kids???
  • Are you allowed to use Facebook in prison?
  • How many sunbeds a week does it take to look ancient by your mid-twenties? That many

are staple favourites and can played daily, as there is apparently no limit to the personal information that people you haven’t seen for upwards of ten years are willing to share…

And long may it continue.

More Facebook posts:

Facebook: Status updaters we all know
Facebook: More familiar behaviour
Facebook: Obligation friends
Facebook: Even more familiar behaviour

Education: Bachelor’s Degree mainstays (Part Three)

Students by Tom NashWhat’s that? More student-y stereotypes? You bet your red Chuck Taylors* it is!

The victim
There’s at least one in every house/flat/dormitory in every university town or campus in the world. This is the housemate that never washes up but criticises the way everyone else does it, eats other people’s food, wakes everyone else up in the middle of the night burning toast and bitches when asked for their share of bills. It is impossible to call them out on any of this behaviour too, as their default position in any argument is ‘defensive’.

They also have an unnatural talent at making everyone else out to be the arsehole. No matter how you broach the subject, you will end up looking like the bad one if you try to say anything. Best just leave them to it, they’ll learn some responsibility eventually. Or become politicians.
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Education: Bachelor’s Degree mainstays (Part Two)

Students by Tom NashMore of the usual suspects that lurk on campus:

The repressed
This lot often come from deeply religious backgrounds or are the children of clergyman.

During Fresher’s Week they will discover the delights of sex, drink, drugs and partying. For the rest of their degree they will attempt to:

a) shag their way through as much of the student population as possible.
b) snort or smoke (or snort and smoke) their way through every substance they can get hold of.
c) party to the point of hospitalisation.
d) all of the above.

The mystery
Throughout your degree, mentioning this person’s name will receive a chorus of ‘How have they not been kicked off the course yet?!’
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Education: Bachelor’s Degree mainstays (Part One)

Students by Tom NashIt doesn’t matter which university you attend (at the moment anyway- it could all change once the fees increase), you will ALWAYS meet at least one person that falls into the following groups:

The cultured ones
It could be that they quote Nietzsche at every opportunity. Maybe they boast about not owning a television. Or perhaps it’s their continual insistence that they are deep and spiritual because they’ve been travelling. It could even be the way they believe that lectures and seminars are actually just a conversation between them and the lecturer…

However they do it, just know that they are better than you. That’s all they really want you to know anyway.

The parish elders
These are the extra mature students in the class. It is easy to mistake them for the lecturer when they walk in on the first day, such is the air of experience and sage wisdom that surrounds them.

And boy are they willing to share that wisdom…
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Education: The class system of an FE college

OK, that last college piece got a bit ranty, so here’s a genuine observation:

Education establishments have their own class system

So this is pretty much how it goes: lowest in the rankings are the Cleaners. Most tutors, managers and senior management do not even acknowledge them. They float around the building like tabard wearing spectres. When I worked there full time, my department had a brilliant cleaner, a little old Irish lady called Mary who would fill our kettle and wash our mugs each morning for a tenner a week. She was wicked!


Next are the Caretakers. Want a heavy thing moved? Get one of these fellas. They’re engaged with on a human level about as regularly as the cleaners.

Then it’s the Security team. The ID cards are handled by Security so technically this is the department I’m working in. A few of them are a bit bouncer-ish, which doesn’t help sometimes but over all they’re a really cheery bunch- always good for a laugh but handy if there’s trouble. They command more respect than the previous two groups but are just considered as muscle by the majority of those high up the chain.

IT Technicians– by definition an odd bunch. Why should here be any different? It got so bureaucratic when I was a full-timer that we had to call them to change ink cartridges, we weren’t allowed to- health and safety risks, you know…
The higher-ups are a bit nicer to this lot because they can fix your internets! But only if they fix it NOW!!!

Admin staff- there’s two types of these: the manager’s bitch or the department organiser. The people that do the things the tutors and managers don’t want to do. High up enough to deny the cleaners exist, call IT for help and get heavy things moved.

Tutors come in three types:
>The veteran- a dead-eyed shell that drifts from the office to the classroom/workshop and back. They work their contracted hours and their contracted hours ONLY.
>The new-fish- young, keen, not yet beaten into submission by the system. ‘I get time off in lieu? Sure! I’ll work Saturday’s open day!’
>The middle-grounder- still enthusiastic but at times shows the unmistakable look and air of resignation ‘the veteran’ has. ‘The open day? Isn’t that on a Saturday? Do I have to?’

‘The veteran’ acknowledges only who they have to, ‘the middle-grounder’ knows who to keep sweet, ‘the new-fish’ wants to be everyone’s friend.

Aspiring Managers– can be spotted by wearing suits in roles where suits are not really warranted. Female aspirers are noted by their dynamic trouser-suits. They only acknowledge tutors and their own admin staff while constantly seeking approval and trying to impress senior management.

You can spot Managers by their fast, determined walk- these are important people who have to get to places quickly so they can do important things. They will speak only to other managers, their personal bitch and senior management.

Senior Management– you can spot this lot by the rays of light that emanate from their trousers and the angelic choir that announces their presence in a room. Seriously- watch these people, they’ve shat on many to get where they are. The lower you are the less you matter to this lot. Admin staff, bar their own PA probably just appear as those squiggly things you get in your peripheral vision. Anyone lower than that… Nothing. Remember Mount Olympus in Clash of the Titans? Zeus and them with their clay figures? Yeah- that’s the principal’s office.

So there you have it. In total I’ve served eight years in this institution and these are my findings from this time.

Till next time x

http://thewritetomnash.co.uk

Education: The general public at an FE college

Those who know me are aware that I spent five years working in the public sector. In Further Education to be a little less vague. All in all, my experiences at this organisation left me somewhat disillusioned about life, people, work in general and the education system itself.
When I started work there, as a bright-eyed, eager eighteen year-old, I assumed that all the people employed by a large organisation would work together, assisting other departments and colleagues, and generally aiming to create a conducive, efficient working environment, you know; seeing as the same person signs all the pay cheques and the general aim of education institutes to assist people in gaining qualifications. I know! What a numpty! Naive much?!
Don’t worry, I soon learned…

‘But,’ I hear you cry, ‘you stayed for five years, Tom. It can’t have been that bad!’ Well, let me enlighten you. No. No it wasn’t, not at first. I was just office gimp in the early days; making drinks, printing, photocopying, filing, answering the phone, sending letters to students (or ‘learners’ as they’ve been re-branded- don’t get me started) and whatever else no-one else wanted to do. I soon progressed on a fuck-ton of others things, including the responsibility of claiming funding for a £1.5m contract on a monthly basis and the recruitment, assessment and enrolment of applicants. That meant teenage girls. Teenage girls who wanted to be hairdressers… Have I mentioned I was eighteen when I started? Right, consider that five years rationalised/justified.

Eventually, the mountain of bureaucracy you have to traverse before achieving anything, lack of career progression opportunities, ever increasing responsibility, complete absence of salary increases and the realisation that while nice to look at, someone who’s life ambition is to cut hair was not likely to provide the fulfilling relationship I was looking for pushed me to start hunting for alternative employment.

A fan of irony? To escape the disillusionment, ya boy ended up going to university… Oh yes!

Anyway, background sorted, this brings me on to what I’ve called this post. Each summer since starting university I’ve returned to my former employer to assist during enrolment by issuing new and returning students with the ID cards that allow them access to the building. This involves taking a photo, printing the card and explaining some basic rules and regulations. Now each year, this place enrols something like 15000 students. And they all need ID.

So over three weeks me and my colleagues speak to and take photos of a massive range of people; from school children to retirees, Americans to Zambians (see what I did there?) and more. Now to get some perspective, when it is open enrolment and anyone can walk in, see what’s available and sign up for a course, these people may have been in the building for up to six hours, slowly working their way through the process by the time they get to my area (the last stage), at which point I stick a webcam in their face and take an awful photo of them which they have to walk around showing for the next ten months.

In three days so far this year, more than 1500 people have been processed. Here are some generalisations thinly disguised as observations that I have made in this time, as well as a few from my full-time days that have popped into my head since I started writing this:

Dyslexia is regularly used as an excuse to disguise a poor level of education
This used to piss me right off. The standard assessment for new students is a Maths and English test. Applicants with learning difficulties, upon presenting evidence of the diagnosis, are obviously allowed some assistance, such as extra time and/or someone to read the questions to them, whatever is required. However, the amount of people who claimed dyslexia each year when it was clear that they were just thick never failed to astound me.

People get precious over the most trivial things
Yeah, this is an obvious one- we all know this, but it never ceases to amaze me: I’ve had middle-aged women (you know, like someone’s mum) violently try to snatch back their old ID cards when I’ve explained that it will be shredded, even though it has expired, has no further value and their new one is being printed as we fight.

People also try to steal various useless things, normally the fabric lanyards we issue the cards with (students must display their ID at all times) covered with garish logos and the word STUDENT. The ‘welcome packs’ are also popular for thieving; they are rubbish plastic folders containing some basic information, a crap pen and a cheap alarm clock that we give to every student anyway! Or if they don’t try to steal them, they get upset because ‘I didn’t get one but my friend did.’ *Sigh*

No-one listens
It’s so rare that someone actually leaves through the designated exit I clearly point out (it’s behind me) that I celebrate when someone does. The usual procedure plays out like this: show student where the exit is, they (appear to) acknowledge the information you have just provided, they turn and march off in the opposite direction.

An awful lot of people fail at listening AND reading. Each area of the hall in which enrolment takes place is clearly signposted. After having their forms signed off by a tutor, students are seen by a ‘scanner’ who checks all the right boxes are ticked. If required they are then sent to the ‘Welfare’ department who assist with benefits and housing issues or the ‘Learning Support’ department (dyslexia etc). Then the form is processed, any fees are paid and they are sent to us for their mugshot. As I’ve said, each stage is clearly signposted: the ‘Security ID Passes’ area is labelled ‘Security ID Passes’, the ‘Welfare’ department’s area is labelled… umm… ‘Welfare’ and the ‘Learning Support’ area is… You get it.

So you’d think it’d be pretty hard to confuse the three… Hmmm… *Deep sigh*

I’ve also noticed that ‘da yoof’ of South London have developed some interesting pronunciation (how old do I sound now?). Again, this is not news but this in particular caught my attention: A photo is not a photo, it is a picture. But it’s not a picture, it’s a pit-char… See, told you it was interesting.

And I’m yet to work out why every sentence has to end with ‘still’… still. Would you like an example? Here’ya:

‘How was the film?’
‘Yeah it was all right, still.’

I know; ridiculous, right?

Part two coming up shortly!

http://thewritetomnash.co.uk