"When two off-duty teachers meet by chance," he told them, "however different their schools and subjects, there is an instant camaraderie, a kind of freemasonry - if that is not an unfortunate analogy to use in front of this audience - which unites them."
His audience agreed it was indeed unfortunate.
Eddie Mullen, recently retired heidie at St Patrick's High, Coatbridge, was one of the first to put the minister on the spot. This is a family tradition since his brother Peter, retired head of Holyrood in Glasgow, was always first with the biting question to politicians paraded before assemblies of heidies.
Mullen was also one of the first to question the minister's sidekick (known as Douglas Osler, the senior chief inspector who has taken over from Nisbet Gallacher).
"At this stage of my career I consider myself fireproof," Mullen began. "Eddie," Osler interrupted, "never consider yourself fireproof. There's a number of people here whom I once inspected."
"Yes," replied Mullen, "and there's a number of people who remember it. "