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Adrian’s Goldfish Bowl
by Mike Hickman




It wasn’t Adrian’s fault that he had been chosen to teach the “how to teach” module for the incoming lecturers. It was just that they couldn’t find anything else he could teach. They’d tried him on the international courses, but Uganda and Kenya had sent him back, and they’d offered him to the teacher education team, who said that their students, tame as they were, would most likely tear him to shreds before throwing him back.

So he got the “how to teach” module for incoming lecturers. For the newly minted academics with their newly minted doctorates (Adrian’s own was thirty years back and hadn’t once been taken off the shelf down in the PhD suite, not even by the cleaners). They were so new, it was reckoned, that they would be unaware as yet of the University’s standards. Consequently, the risk that someone like Adrian would be their introduction to the institution was considered less of a problem than him winding up as a future boss or colleague. And they’d be nervous at first. They’d be keen to please, less critical of what they received, less capable of spotting the well-known Adrian deficiencies. And they had to pass. That was the beauty of it. They’d been contracted; the course was mandatory, and not passing them would create havoc with timetabling. Not to mention end of semester marking.

“And you might enjoy it,” Adrian was told. “And you might actually learn something,” they didn’t add. But it was there in the room when the module was scheduled. It was there on the face of his Head of Department when it became clear that there was no alternative. And, no, Dubai did not want him back. He’d been lucky to come home with his passport. And his neck.

But, give him his due – it was about time someone did – Adrian threw his all into it. He went through the library for books on pedagogy. He flicked through the “How To…” guides for primary and secondary teachers. He bought his first ever Post-It notes and deployed them, too. Knowing that he wasn’t likely to win much in the way of positive evaluations even from these very green future tutors, he determined to keep his mouth shut as much as possible. Give them things to do, that was the thing. Show them how to teach – how to get students to learn – by getting them to do it.

And it was a good idea, too. To begin with. The hot seating went down well. A bit of role play, even with the more self-conscious ones, was well received because, Adrian knew, it was them doing the work. If they enjoyed it, that was their work, too. And the post-it notes on the forehead party game – who knew that would turn up in one of the “how to” books? Who knew that he could get them laughing?

If Mrs Adrian, as he used to call her (really) had still been at home, he’d have told her. And she’d have needed a sit down. But, still. Laughing. Him!

But he got above himself, didn’t he? He pushed it too far. He turned to the page with the goldfish bowl and he thought to himself, well, I’ve got an hour and a half to kill, and I’ve got ten students; I’m barely going to have to say anything at all.

The book said to get them in a circle. He’d already done that much (it did wonders for taking the focus off him as the "Big I Am"). The book said that two people went into the middle – and, oh, they were still keen! – and they’d be given something to debate. The rest listened in to the questions and opinions, stepping in and out (now, was that Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Something-or-Other?) when they felt confident.

It ought to have been a winner.

In some respects it was.

Because, after some back and forth about gender or politics or death (something light like that), one of the students on the outside had stepped in. And then her opposite number had got up, leaving her chair empty. And the room had considered who ought to go next. When everyone had already gone next.

Everyone apart from one of their number, that is.

“Come on Adrian,” said the newly seated student. “In you come.”

And he thought it was a bit of fun. He allowed himself to be led to the chair. He let her say the thing she said next. The thing the room had, seemingly, put her up to saying.

“Adrian. You’re clearly not as bad as you think you are. Why do you let the University treat you like this?”




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