If I have a ‘sloggy day’ at the moment it is Tuesday; not because I feel Dylan’s absence more than on any other day but because it involves repetition. This year I am acting as sole tutor on a module which, because of the size of the student cohort, means I deliver the same seminar several times each week. Perhaps this is common practice on other courses, or in other universities or education systems, but it is not something I have done before.
Although repeating a seminar can feel dreary, there are advantages. An obvious benefit is that delivering the same seminar three times is not as time-consuming, in terms of preparation, as delivering three different seminars. For the students, meanwhile, the main advantage is consistency; as I teach all the students, their experience of the module is broadly similar and, crucially, they all receive the same assessment advice. There are, of course, nuances; groups develop their own character and dynamic which has an impact on individual experience. Also, as I learn from my own practice I sometimes make adjustments to my plans; in theory, the group I see last should benefit from this.
I asked to be sole tutor on the module this year, mainly because of my concern to promote consistency but also because I wanted a break from having to coordinate a group of tutors. This is a process which has parallels with some of the issues I raised yesterday in relation to Dylan’s care; not only is it hard to achieve consistency across a team of people, it places responsibility for ensuring this on the person coordinating the group.
When I was the only person looking after Dylan I didn’t have to make my practice explicit; there was no need for me to write down how I cared for him or identify the strategies I used to support him in different situations and contexts. Dylan’s move to residential care, however, meant that I had to articulate this practice to the care home manager so that she, in turn, could disseminate it to her staff. Even the clearest care plan (or module handbook) is not enough, however. Perhaps there isn’t time to read it or something happens that isn’t covered by the plan. Maybe a care worker (or tutor) mistakes it or decides to add their own spin. Although this doesn’t always matter – and can sometimes be positive – inconsistency is more often an undesirable thing. As the coordinator of a team of care workers (or module) there is thus a need to be alert to this.
A few weeks ago (on Day 14) I was struck by Pippa’s comment; “Everything you write proves that when you love somebody, the caring never ends with the intervention of official “caring” – in fact, your vigilance increases.” I hadn’t had that thought before but I think it’s true: Dylan’s move to residential care has been more demanding, in terms of my attention, than taking care of him myself. Similarly, it is easier for me to to deliver a module alone than to support others to deliver it.
This afternoon, however, as Tuesday morning repeated itself, I found myself reflecting on the disbenefits of working alone. Being a lynch pin – the person on whom everything depends – is tiring. I have willed myself to stay well; ‘please don’t get sick’, I tell myself. An only person can be vulnerable in other ways too: if you get things wrong there is no one to check or warn you. Some days you are not at your best or you take your eye off the ball. Then there is so very much of you: students (or a disabled son) are entitled to feel fed up at the sight of you in front of them again. And what you miss is the process of having to explain yourself – the scrutiny and reflection when a colleague says: ‘Just talk me through that again. What’s the purpose of this?’
Yesterday I reflected that consistency of care was something that was hard to maintain in residential settings. Reflecting on this in relation to my own work, however, has reminded me that it can be as challenging to be vigilant about self as about others. Consistency might be easier to achieve in individual practice, but a group builds our capacity to consistently question and reflect.
The photographs are of Sophie Ryder’s Lady Hares (Yorkshire Sculpture Park)