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Songspotting with Sheila

You could not call Sheila, our recently retired science technician an unsung heroine, principally because it is becoming a tradition at our place that any time we have a "do" a song is specially rewritten for the occasion. Thus we have had Teachin' Next Door to Robert for a departing assistant head and Oh Carol! for his replacement (Welcome to our school We are sure you'll like it Though your PT is cruel). Sheila got the Wild Rover.

I will miss Sheila, who was possibly the only other Status Quo fan in the school. She has a great sense of humour. In some cases that statement means "laughs at all my jokes" but in her case it means more. Also, few people have been as encouraging to me when it comes to submitting articles and scripts. If only she was retiring to become a publisher.

At the farewell night out, the principal chemistry teacher gave a speech during which he said that if anything was annoying him he always felt better after talking to Sheila about it. I knew what he meant and his statement got me thinking anew about our support staff. I have been very fortunate in the janitors, secretaries, auxiliaries and technicians I have worked with. Only occasionally has inverted snobbery made an appearance with a "these teachers seem to think they know it all" attitude. That said, I have not met many teachers who thought they knew it all.

I certainly did not know it all when as a bright green probationer teacher. I was about to teach the pilot (and at that time uncensored) standard science health course to an unruly fourth year. The head technician saw that I had ordered the worksheets on sexually transmitted diseases and decided to have some fun.

Known as Colonel Sanders due to his resemblance to the character on Kentucky Fried Chicken boxes, this old bird approached me earnestly before the lesson. "See that stuff you're doing next," he said, "I don't know much about it. Mind if I sit in?" I tried to speak but found I seemed to have a couple of chicken nuggets choking me up. Fortunately the Colonel failed to keep a straight face for more than a few seconds before letting me off the hook. He then passed on some advice about avoiding infection that he had been given in the RAF. As it involved sheep I found myself unable to relay it to S4.

Having a cheap joke with a technician is one thing, and I had many with Sheila, especially since I introduced her to Iain Banks, or at least to his books. Being able to talk over something important with a non-teaching colleague is altogether more valuable. Teachers are too often accused of not living in the real world. Personally speaking, I can think of no job where I would learn more about the way life is really lived.

That said, the majority of our contact with other adults during work is with fellow teachers. It is good to talk with somebody whose agenda is not quite the same as your own. Incidents with pupils that at the time seemed like challenges to one's authority and professionalism can be brought into perspective when told to non-teaching staff.

Blessed is the science department where there is mutual respect between teachers and technicians, for they shall retain a sense of proportion. And if there is somebody there you can discuss Irvine Welsh and have a joke with, so much the better.

Gregor Steele could not find a Status Quo song to rewrite for Sheila, though the word on the street is that they did cover Wild Rover.

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