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New kids on the block

WITH the change of timetable arrive those handful of unfortunates who are having to change school at the end of second or third year. Despite the ministrations of guidance, there is still the foreboding of having been snatched away from bosom teenage pals, and finding oneself surrounded by a thousand unfamiliar faces, and robbed of the power of knowing which teachers are "OK for a laugh", and which aren't.

I sympathise with these pupils, having attended five primary schools myself. At the age of six I moved from Edinburgh to rural Lancashire. A month of requests to "say girrul" had me swapping my douce Portobello tones for a set of vowels that wouldn't have shamed George Formby.

However, there is a resilience about primary pupils that somehow helps them cope. For secondary pupils it's different, and while the vast majority manage to cope with change at the most awkward period, emotionally and academically, of their lives, some definitely toil.

In my first term of teaching, a guidance teacher introduced a new pupil to the class. As the child sat down, the guidance teacher sidled past me and muttered: "Watch her, she's a climber." Was this a wind up for probationers? Self-consciously I hurried after her. "What do you mean?" The experienced practitioner eyed me calmly: "You know - when she gets worried she starts climbing." P> I nodded as if we had spent hours in college discussing such an eventuality and cautiously re-entered the classroom. We continued reading the novel (I think it was Kes - it usually was, and, come to think of it, it usually still is). By the end of the first page, she was sitting on her desk. The end of the chapter saw her perched precariously on top of the jotter cupboard and, as I started class discussion, out of the corner of my eye I spotted her hands reaching up towards the top of the 6ft bookcase.

I have to confess to a certain dryness in my throat at this stage and the pupils were no help at all, studiously ignoring her mountaineering approach to literature, 30 pairs of eyes, for once, glued to the page in front of them. I still wonder what would have happened had the bell not rung to save me.

Experience doesn't excuse you from these moments, as a colleague discovered last week. He greeted the new pupil - "Hello! What have you done?" - to be stunned when the new lad shouted, "Nothin'! Right!", kicked over the waste bin and headed out of school, 13 minutes into his first day. We only persuaded him back by convincing him that the teacher's greeting had been by way of enquiring what parts of the course he had already covered, rather than an accusation of wrongdoing.

Good luck with the welcome mat.

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