Advent Episode 10: Into the Breach

Alison was sitting on the bus, her tablet computer on her lap. Nine twenty-five. Because she’d slept in, it was rush hour, and the bus was taking forever. She was trying to work out what Gareth Jones should have been doing at 10am so that she could at least cover some of the work the students might miss. But she didn’t have a 3G connection, and there was hardly anything on the tablet she could look at.  She’d have to wait to get to campus and a wifi connection. The bus crawled on. She ground her teeth in frustration.

Lecture theatre 4.11. 9.55am. Alison stood at the front, radiating a sense of triumph. She’d got to campus at nine forty-five, checked the room planner for Biology Basics, found out which room to go to, downloaded and skimmed through a PowerPoint file from the archive for an old but similar module and had sketched an outline introduction in her head as she walked to the class. She could have punched the air in delight at her own competence.

The lecture theatre was empty but for two students at the back. She switched the presenting equipment on and loaded up the PowerPoint slides. The doors opened and closed a couple of times while she was doing this, but it still sounded quiet.

When she straightened and looked up again, there were five students in the 100 seat theatre. She thought there should be around 65 in this group, but she couldn’t remember exactly. It was nine fifty-nine and all five were looking at her, not exactly expectantly, more with curiosity.

She cleared her throat. “Good Morning. Are you expecting a session on Cell Biology?”

A couple of the students nodded; the others continued to stare at her.

“Well. Dr Jones can’t be here this morning, so I’m going to cover this session. I’m sure you all remember me from induction, I’m Dr Fraser, the course leader”.

More staring. She blundered on. “According to the VLE, you should be up to this session on Plasma Membranes. Is that right?”. She paused, and looked directly at the nearest student.

“Um. I don’t know”. He looked down at his blank pad of paper.  “We haven’t really started yet.”

Alison looked at him. What was he talking about? It was week four of term. Had he misunderstood her question completely? “Where have you got up to with Dr Jones?” she prompted, more gently.

One of the students at the back of the room called over “We haven’t really done anything. Dr Jones only turned up for the first session.”

“You mean you haven’t seen him since” Alison calculated rapidly “the third of October?” The student shrugged, as if to say that she wasn’t sure of the exact date.

“The third of October…why didn’t you come and tell me?” Alison accused them all.

They stared back at her, stolidly refusing to take responsibility for something which clearly couldn’t be their fault.

“Dr Fraser.” One of the students was brave enough to answer. “We’re first years. We didn’t know what was going on. We thought maybe we’d made a mistake and there wasn’t a session every week, or something. At my school, we had an alternating timetable every week.

“We,” she looked round to include the rest of the attendees, “we just thought we’d keep coming until something happened. The others said there was no point.” Alison realised that she was gaping. She was struggling to process the information. It didn’t compute with her understanding of what had been going on in what was, after all, ‘her’ course, the course for which as course leader she was responsible. She needed to act.

She closed her mouth firmly and tried to look authoritative. The she opened it again, took a breath, then said. “OK. Well. I’m sorry that we didn’t know about this, or explain to you better how things work around here. I’m sorry that Dr Jones hasn’t been able to attend” she trailed off slightly, realising that she had no idea of how long Dr Jones had been dead and she couldn’t help wondering, if it had been a couple of weeks, what kind of condition the body would be in. Could be an interesting study for a cell biology course, in fact…

She shook herself again, aware of the still-curious faces,  “but here I am now to get things back on track. Now, I don’t think there’s much point in trying to run a full session today. There are hardly any of you here and it looks as though we’ll need to get back to the beginning of the module. What we’ll do is, what we’ll do is…we’ll schedule some extra classes so that you can catch up. I’ll teach you myself,” she added, recklessly, “so that I’m sure you’ve covered everything.

She recalculated her own timetable in her head. “Wednesday afternoons are usually good”, at least she’d be able to miss some of those dreary committee meetings with good excuse, “how about for you?”

“I play football on Wednesdays”

“I have to look after my baby sister”

“I’ve got a shift at work”,

“OK for me”

“Oh” said Alison “doesn’t sound too good. Tell you what, we’ll sort something out via email and then we can get everyone’s views. Now, is there anything you’d like me to talk to you about while I’m here?”


“Right” said Alison briskly “ok well there’s not too much point in us all staying here, I don’t want the rest of the class to miss out. Thank you for coming, though, and putting me in the picture. We’ll soon get this all sorted out.” She smiled brightly as she collected up her papers, shut down the PowerPoint and extracted her USB drive from the lecture theatre computer. The five students stood up rather uncertainly and, muttering thank yous, wandered out of the theatre. Alison looked at her watch. Ten past ten. She’d got most of her hour back – excellent. She pushed to one side a vague uneasiness about how the hell she was going to re-timetable the missed classes, and set off back to her office.

Follow @wadingtreacle on Twitter, or like the Wading Through Treacle page on Facebook to be informed of updates, or click on ‘follow’ at the bottom of this screen to register for new episodes by email. Tomorrow’s episode: Known Unknowns


One thought on “Advent Episode 10: Into the Breach

  1. Pingback: Advent Episode 9: A Vision of the Future | Wading through Treacle

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