22 December 2005

On unfamiliar achievement

I have finally completed the wardrobe. Doors hung; catches installed; the whole thing. It's not perfect. There is at least 1.5mm between the closed doors, and about 4mm misalignment between them at the top and bottom, but over 1200mm and given that the walls, floor and ceiling were not straight to begin with, I'm very satisfied. It's a B+ at least, and probably an A-.

I'm not just satisfied; for the moment (fortified by a well-deserved glass of plonk), this counts as much of an achievement as my Ph.D or my National Teaching Fellowship. Over the top? Probably, but...
  • I'm familiar with the academic game. I know how to play it. I don't pretend to be in the premier league, but I'm good enough. It's a game which is slow to give feedback; you don't know how you are doing for months (in the case of peer-reviewed articles and books) or even for decades (in the rarefied atmosphere of Nobel prizes).
  • The practical game is different. I could not know (despite all the calculations) as I drilled and screwed the piano-hinges for the doors, whether they would actually close together, or overlap, or have an unacceptable gap, or be hopelessly misaligned. (Piano-hinge, being continous and not allowing for adjustment, is very unforgiving.) But as soon as I had set the last screw, I could test it and find out. It was a trivial, but nonetheless anxious moment.
Why go on about this over two blogs? Simply because my students are frequently making the same transition into unfamiliar territory. There is a teacher of carpentry and joinery on one of my current courses; he would no doubt have serious points to make about everything from the original plan of the wardrobe to its execution; by his standards my efforts may well be pathetic. On the other hand, I am grading his skills in writing academic submissions.

  • So this is simply a salutary reflection on how difficult it is to learn how to produce good work in an unfamilar area, and the need to respect those making the cross-over.
  • And; my learning in joinery has been entirely self-taught. Would I have learned any more effectively by taking a course?

19 December 2005

On Wardrobes (no lions or witches so far)

It's installing the lamp-post in the back which is the real hassle.

I'm trying to construct a fitted wardrobe. Flat-pack is for wimps; this is the real McCoy. Just authentic ready-made dimensionally-stable laminated furniture board, an arsenal of power tools and hundreds of bits and pieces from Screwfix.com (most of which will not be used, but what the hell? They are such good value!)

I have measured twice and cut once. With half-mm precision. Everything has been planned and pe-cut and drilled (in the garden, thanks to the fine weather round here). There's no room to handle 8x4 (2.4m x 1.2m) boards up in the bedroom so it had to be done that way. The assembly sequence has been worked out so as not to put too much strain on the fixings (this board is heavy stuff). This afternoon I started to put it all together.

The room ain't straight! One end of the location is 7mm higher than the other. The wall in the corner is 13mm behind the wall 4ft out (OK I mix the measurements, doesn't everyone? Which do you prefer, 37.5 mm [actually nearer 38mm] or an inch and a half?) Blow the drawing board, back to the real world!

What has this to do with teaching? A lot. Prepare all you like, the students don't conform to your predictions. "SMART" objectives are all very well, but they are "teacher" (and teachers' bosses) things. The real world is much messier.

Hope it's fine tomorrow: I shall be out in the garden trimming 7mm off an 8x4 board.