Sara McShane, the irascible education correspondent from a national newspaper, arrived in school this morning for her week-long placement at "the sharp end of Scotland's classroom crisis", as her newspaper controversially called it this morning.
Alas, she had taken up Richard Dick's rectorial challenge to "come and smell the coffee" after she had reported a damning indictment of leadership quality in Scottish secondaries last month. Let us all hope that she is not disappointed in her findings.
I confiscated a teenage magazine from Darlinda George (2S) this morning. The girl was paying no attention whatsoever to my imprecations regarding the necessity of using the apostrophe correctly and was instead quietly squinting at a page advising her of "the best snogging technique if you want to keep your man".
Quite apart from the inappropriateness of such material for a 13-year-old, I told her that she would be better advised to concentrate on her academic attainment and she could get back her magazine at the end of the week.
However, by the time I had finished scouring its salacious contents at lunchtime, I felt I would be better advised to contact the obscene publications squad. It's a while since I've been in touch with the female youth magazine market (I did catch a look at my sister's Jackie some decades ago), but even such a lengthy absence couldn't have prepared me for the pornographic advice on hand to this generation's modern Miss.
If it wasn't snogging advice, it was guidance on sexually transmitted diseases; if it wasn't "communication tips to make your man run wild", it was "condomania, with our exclusive guide to a range of flavoured prophylactics"; and if it wasn't the "top 10 ultimate perfume tips" it was "unwanted pregnancy: how to avoid it and still have a good time"!
Now, I am as broad-minded as the next man, but I was seriously aghast at the advice on offer to this tawdry rag's barely post-pubescent readership. To think that my own daughter - now sweet-faced and cherubic in Rockston Primary 1 - could be reading this kind of outrageous material in another eight years almost makes me want to throw up.
I brought up my concerns with Patricia Harrison this afternoon, but my English departmental colleague was lacking in sympathy, or even plain understanding.
"What's with you, Morris?" she raised her eyes and knitted her brow at the same time (an expressive achievement I would have admired if I hadn't been so preoccupied). "You've got to be where these kids are coming from. They're not all sitting at home reading Swallows and Amazons anymore, you know."
"Aren't they?" I enquired sarcastically, but she missed my bent.
"No, they're not, Morris. They're another generation from yours. Or even mine," she added pointedly. "They want to express themselves in whatever way they see fit. And if that means exploring their sexuality, then that's what they'll do. And we have to meet them on their own ground if we're going to communicate with them like we need to."
I was speechless.
"D'you mind if I borrow this?" Patricia held the offending magazine aloft. "I might get a few teaching ideas from it."
I told her she was welcome to it and shuddered to think what pedagogical outcome might emerge.
Luckily, Sara McShane wasn't anywhere to be seen, having elected to spend the afternoon with Mr Dick's senior management weekly review. I hope she stayed awake.
An impromptu staff meeting during this morning's interval gave Sara McShane the opportunity to witness school life in the raw.
"I just want to remind everybody," Mr Dick implored, "that there really is no way that we can carry on leaving the tea urn switched on all day, even at low setting. The staffroom looks, and feels, like a sauna and the cost of replacing burned-out elements is becoming prohibitive."
Ms McShane's pencil stopped writing almost as soon as it had started, as she recognised the tedious nature of the first item on the agenda.
"And secondly," announced Mr Dick sonorously, "I'd like to have everyone's submissions for CPD as soon as possible. As you all know, continuing professional development is one of the principal levers of the McCrone agreement and I'm absolutely committed to ensuring that Greenfield Academy plays a full part in its proper implementation."
He then launched into a well-prepared panegyric on the benefits accruing to the profession in general, and Greenfield Academy staff in particular, of properly planned and executed professional development. He concluded with a request that all development plans be on his desk by Friday morning, now that he had "given the staff four weeks to make appropriate arrangements".
It was the first that most of us had heard of it, but we could recognise a plant when we saw it and, for the most part, decided to humour the man. It seemed to be working quite well, because Sara McShane started scribbling furiously as Mr Dick came to the end of his address, even if she did look a little disappointed. It was just a pity that George Crumley burst out laughing at that point.
A lovely story from St Ainsley's, our neighbouring denominational school, which is currently undergoing the traumatic experience of a visit from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education.
Apparently, all was going well until a lesson under the auspices of the special needs department was being observed. Initially, the observing inspector had been moved to comment, mid-lesson, that the preparation and implementation all appeared to be "very good", with the consequence that Mrs Quigley and Miss Donnelly, the team-teaching pair concerned, were positively aglow with a heightened sense of self-esteem and renewed enthusiasm for their pedagogic endeavours.
Alas, it was just at this point that one of their charges (a child with severe behavioural problems, apparently made worse by the current phase of the moon) chose to throw a chair across the room at one of his fellow pupils. All hell apparently broke loose and Mrs Quigley and Miss Donnelly had a few torrid moments while they tried to regain control of their adolescent tinderbox.
Eventually, an executive decision was taken to move the rest of the class into the library for "private study" with Mr McCracken, our temporary librarian. Meanwhile Mrs Quigley and Miss Donnelly separated the main contestants in the boxing match that had ensued and successfully calmed matters down until all parties emerged on speaking, if not exactly friendly, terms.
It was while they were quietly offering each other a few congratualtory remarks on how successfully the situation had been diffused that the HMI, Mr Peterson, made a sudden reappearance in the classroom to inform them that their lesson had been downgraded from "very good" to "fair".
"But why's that?" asked an incredulous Diane Quigley.
"Putting the children into the library for private study. It was a very unproductive use of time," he explained firmly.
Of course, we were all shocked by the story, and lost little time in relating it to Sara McShane. I think she's beginning to get an idea of what life in school is really like. Whether her increasingly sensationalist and notoriously teacher-unfriendly newspaper will ever see fit to print such stories of the profession's difficulties, or of its obvious willingness to undertake continuing professional development in the spirit of our last pay agreement, will be interesting to note. They're hardly very sexy subjects.
Sara McShane left us at lunchtime today, her face etched with disappointment and her notebook surprisingly empty of the sensationalist stories that her editor would have liked her to find. Just as well, given what I overheard outside Miss Harrison's classroom this afternoon.
She had clearly decided to make a point about using Darlinda George's confiscated magazine as a stimulus for her teaching activities. It had been, in my view, a forlorn hope and her heated words as I walked along the corridor confirmed my opinion.
She had clearly set her third year "please-take" class a writing activity based upon the premise of writing letters to - and answering letters from - a magazine problem page. In itself, this can be a useful activity in that it involves the children in practising various modes of transactional, personal and objective writing styles. However, I have always found that it is best to set specific boundaries on the topics to be discussed when initiating such an exercise. Had Patricia not been so keen to emphasise her liberal credentials, then the screeching match I heard emanating from Room B14 might never have taken place.
"Simon Sheridan!" she shrilled. "When I set you the task of writing a letter to a problem page, there were many things I might have been interested to know. But one of the many things I did not want to know" - here she paused for emphasis - "was that you, Simon Sheridan, were worried about the size of your PENIS!"
She paused for breath, then started again. "That is complete airhead crap, sonny boy, and if you want to make an issue of it, then maybe you'd like me to discuss your disgusting behaviour with your parents!"
I scuttled along the corridor before I heard any more. It was just as well that Sara McShane wasn't on hand to witness such a blatant lack of professionalism.
And who knows? Maybe Simon is worried about the size of his penis. I'll have a word with his guidance teacher.
John Mitchell Next month: Continuing professional development hits Greenfield Academy in a big way