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Don't call me a Nancy boy

THE opening shot shows the exterior of a church hall. Taped to the door is a sign stating "3rd Carluke Cubs Blue Peter Bring and Buy Sale". The camera briefly lingers on a small group of people making their way in. A father with a small child on his shoulders genuflects as he passes through the door. The child slaps the lintel, beaming as if she has just touched the sky.

Cut to the video stall. It is manned by a fortysomething and his son, who is in cub uniform. The fortysomething is flogging tapes with a derivative Swiss Toni patter. "Selling cassettes at a cub charity event is like making love to a beautiful woman."

A woman, neither beautiful nor otherwise, approaches. "Are you still teaching?" she asks.

And cut!

I go from 42 to 23 in 0.3 micro seconds. She was in my first Standard grade science class. The name is there somewhere, but just out of reach. "Nancy," the woman says obligingly. Ah, yes, she was a thorn in my side. Her behaviour and effort were excellent but most of her classmates were off the planet. If Nancy had been off the planet too I would at least have been spared from feeling guilty at failing a willing pupil. Hell knows I got enough bad feelings from that crew as it was.

We reminisce. Some of the class, she reckons, were "a right bad bunch".

They "played up wi everybody". I was, she tells me with a kind smile, "too soft".

"Is soft the right word, Nancy?" I don't say it aloud. Instead, I smile back and sell her a Rosie and Jim video for her kid, who turns out to be the sky-toucher. Naive, inexperienced, ineffectual, nervous, just out of short trousers, but not soft, I snapped and grouched at every challenge to my authority. Since these were virtually constant, I didn't have time for any softness. Pupils were either good or bad, and while I might have liked to have "won over" the "bad" ones, I made no attempt to understand them.

What Nancy saw was an inability to be firm convincingly. Colleagues told me I would get better at it. They were correct (and I hope to continue to get better at it). What they couldn't give me was an instant injection of their years of experience.

You see, Nancy, teaching an awkward class is like making love to a beautiful woman. The first time you do it, you probably make a complete mess of things and, ultimately, it all boils down to a confidence trick.

Gregor Steele worries that he is developing chips on his shoulder in his old age (see his previous article on ICT Luddites).

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