Friday 4 October 2013

Mature students

Thursdays are my Upright Days, as I am scheduled to be up on my hind feet for 7 hours between 9 and 5.  Math-enabled readers will realise that gives me an hour to do everything else.  In a way it's an easier day that Wednesday, when I only have five scheduled contact hours but divided among 4 different courses.  Thursday has a single lunchtime lecture bracketed by two three-hour lab classes.  I wanted to get in early and talk to the technicians before the merry-go-round whirled me off into teaching.  The Institute is quite quiet at 0830hrs, so I was surprised to be met at the corner of two corridors by one of my 1st-year cell biologists.  I was taken full aback to see the fellow give me a radiant smile and say how much he'd enjoyed the previous day's class.  He must have passed Maths for his Leaving Certificate or he wouldn't be in college but he'd told me the day before that (bio-chemo-physico) science was completely new to him.  The task had been to use an optical microscope to compare plant and animal cells.  It's a workaday thing to do and almost all my students had done it before, but for this chap seeing his own cells with his own DNA stained dark blue for the first time at the age of 34 was amazing.  It's funny how sometimes the older students have more of the eyes-wide-open delight that characterises children than their younger colleagues.

In the brief white-diary before my mid-day lecture, I grabbed a quick bite in the canteen with a good friend from the Engineering School, she's an architect but her older sister has just retired as a science teacher in another of Ireland's third level colleges. After a rather brilliant school career under the tutelage of LSU nuns, this woman was all set to swim into the humanities at college and become a historian or lawyer.  One evening in her late teens she turned up at a science lecture at UCD (about sex in seaweed) and that completely changed her life.  The worthy nuns had unconsciously kept hidden a whole bright, intriguing, frustrating and rewarding Way of Seeing the world. She promptly scrapped her previously imagined career path and, without any previous experience or qualifications, enrolled in UCD to do Science.  You could do that in those days.

On my way back to t'office to get my kit, I met a clatter of the mature students whom I'd interviewed back in May, mitching off their chemistry class to get some lunch before my human physiology lecture.  They told me that they were awash with anxiety about the course and all its long words and I did my best to reassure them that they'd be grand because they'd shown in a previous working life that they were not afraid of hard work and they certainly had a much clearer vision of what they were doing in college than their younger peers.

Learning names and connecting them with faces can be hard but I've now clocked everyone in my two 3rd Year Bio sections, helped by the fact that I'd worked with half of them last year, so learning the new names was just joining the dots.  A number of them are also 'elders' and all of these are 'furrin' - Russian-Irish, Pakistani-Irish, Polish-Irish, Nigerian-Irish and SouthAfrican-Irish.  Knowing him of old, I wasn't surprised to see my Muslim student discretely leave the lab in the middle of class and slip back 20 minutes later having attended ṣalāt al-ʿaṣr صلاة العصر afternoon prayer.  I reminded him of the time he'd done the same thing in the Spring and rather conspicuously returned to find everyone gone early except me tidying things up.  The age and variety-pack backgrounds of these mature students make them quite interesting to talk to.  I can't, for example, imagine having a rational conversation about The Protocols of The Elders of Zion with any of my teaching colleagues.

For me a perfect day would be to wedge my capacious backside in a comfortable chair with nothing to do but a little light bloggin', sustained by cups of tea and an occasional cheese sandwich.  As I was driving homing in the gloaming last night, my path was crossed by a big Grey Heron (Ardea cineraea, Corr chorcra) - always rather mystic wonderful and rarely seen in flight in Ireland - that wrapped up a pretty good day.
Cue Tennyson:
 Then quickly rose Sir Bedivere, and ran,
 And, leaping down the ridges lightly, plunged
 Among the bulrush-beds, and clutch'd the sword,
 And strongly wheel'd and threw it. The great brand
 Made lightnings in the splendour of the moon,
 And flashing round and round, and whirl'd in an arch,
 Shot like a streamer of the northern morn,
 Seen where the moving isles of winter shock
 By night, with noises of the northern sea.
 So flash'd and fell the brand Excalibur:
 But ere he dipt the surface, rose an arm
 Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
 And caught him by the hilt, and brandish'd him
 Three times, and drew him under in the mere.

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