Mutiny and the bounty of summer

Brian Toner

There are many seasonal ways to insult primary schools. You can publish a photograph of your graduating son or daughter with a caption stating the secondary school and university attended, while ignoring anything before the age of 12 or you can warn your primary 7 child that next year's work will be much harder or you can tell a primary teacher "You'll just be winding down to the holidays", four weeks in advance.

The 30 pupils in the class do not disappear early, and since the only way to hang on to your sanity is to keep everyone working, they will kindly present you with 100 jotters each day to mark. The mystery is how teachers keep this up while spending many other hours producing detailed - and mostly unread - reports. The subsequent parents' evenings find teachers' faces frozen in a grotesque welcoming smile as they pray that their rapidly-changing visitors will not present them with unexpected problems. This is when we marvel that general practitioners face unknown problems every 10 minutes of their day.

The summer term does not wind down so much as crash to a dead halt, leaving teachers exhausted and bewildered.

The nature of teaching is always to move forward, but during June it is important to find a little time to reflect on the successes of the year. The joy of our final morning is the assembly.

We are not sure how we accommodate so many children and parents and there is soon an overflow into the corridor. This year's assembly consisted of a well-tried programme - indeed adults and children insist it remains the same each year - "One more step along the world I go", the roll call and presentation of certificates to leaving Primary 7s, the reading about the 12-year-old Jesus leaving his parents in the Temple, and my talk about the blackbirds in our garden caring for their young so that they can grow up and make their own lives.

This year we made time to remember an act of quiet courage played out daily in our school. A Primary 5 boy suffered a near-fatal brain haemorrhage last October. Due to his own persistence, he made a part-time return to school in February accompanied by the care assistant he is always trying to shake off. He is making up for lost time in class and, although still unsteady in his walking, escapes regularly to the playground where he indulges in a curious, one-legged, static version of football. For the first time in public we drew attention to his amazing achievement and he was treated to a well-deserved round of thunderous applause.

The acclamation led to a new development as our 60 Primary 6 pupils leapt to their feet in a standing ovation. At first, I thought a mutiny was under way and in public, to make it worse. A few minutes later, they repeated it as we said farewell to a teacher emigrating to America.

This sudden appeal of the standing ovation suggests too much watching of political party conferences and my suspicion is that our P6 pupils, already known to me as sharp and intelligent, are honing their political skills ready to proclaim their rights, and much more, during next year.

After parents and children had chattered into the noon sunshine, teachers could be found long afterwards stumbling around corridors under the weight of boxes of equipment. There had been previous discussion of the need to change classrooms and now it was happening. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

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Brian Toner

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