Meet 'Meat': a classroom law-enforcer we secretly miss

Today we scoff at unreconstructed teachers like PE man 'Meat' – but they helped with behaviour, says Stephen Petty

Stephen Petty

PE teacher

Tes has invited us to meet various made-up inspirational figures in recent months. “Meet the head who’s leaving because of Ofsted”, “Meet the scared NQT making a difference”, “Meet the supply teacher being ignored” and so on. 

This is all very well, but I have to report that former PE man Alan “Meat” Meatworth is thoroughly hacked off that nobody here has thought to write about him yet. It’s time to meet “Meat”. 

An introduction to "Meat" needs none of the disclaimers surrounding all those other depictions. “Meat” is absolutely a real person. Or rather he was. 

He’s that immense, unsmiling teacher with the muscular frame squeezed into a blazer, who is always standing at the end of the back row in thousands of old-style sports-team photos. (Unlike today, back then there was never any doubt that Meat should be included in the picture.) 

The muscular PE man

Meat has been out of the teaching game for some time now. More’s the pity. 

There were various stories about high-level personal sporting achievements in his youth – rugby league for Wakefield Trinity under-18s, Leeds United youth team, county-level cricket – before the chronic knee injury. 

And before anyone waves the “stereotyping” card, I offer you Meat’s own response to that: “Stereotype? 'Course I’m a bloody stereotype!” Those who knew secondary schools between about 1950 and 2000 will understand where we are here. 

Meat’s behaviour management (not a term he would ever use) was based on the sound assumption that students would generally have a primeval fear of someone so rippling and relentlessly direct in his approach.

Meat would have little time for recent research suggesting that the best way to elicit good behaviour was through “praise”.

Praise was not Meat’s style at all. I once overheard him addressing one of his potentially more awkward new tutees on the first day of the school year. (Meat would, for obvious reasons, be allocated more than his fair share of the difficult kids.) “Hello, Alfie. I’m your form tutor. Know what that means? It means it’s my job to make your life miserable.”

Observation or objectification? 

Meat was an open admirer of women (“the ladies”), though some of his casual remarks began to shock colleagues as schools and attitudes moved into the 21st century

Disclosing to colleagues that a particular member of staff had “nice legs” was no longer deemed acceptable, even if he merely meant it as a simple honest, complimentary observation rather than “objectification”. 

He had often been told that he had nice legs himself. His view was that he didn’t personally feel at all “objectified” by that. So why should anyone else?

Nonetheless, in his latter years Meat learned to shut up about such things, even if he never quite understood why.

It is tempting for us today to shake our heads knowingly at the likes of Meat, yet how many of us (at least in secondary schools) quietly yearn for there to be a few easy enforcers like him around still? 

It’s not that discipline is worse today than it used to be; it just seems to take up more of our time. 

Meat’s mere arrival on a scene would either stop things escalating or rapidly resolve a problem, without his ever laying a finger on anyone throughout his entire career. Perhaps we miss such people more than we can say? 

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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Stephen Petty

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire. 

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