A man among primary teachers

22nd August 1997 at 01:00
Possibly my worst teaching nightmare had just come true. There were all these kids running around and I didn't know what to do. I froze near the door and found myself getting hotter and hotter as people who knew how to cope properly got things organised. This is not a tale from my probation or student days. It happened only a few weeks ago.

My seven-year-old daughter came home with a school newsletter in her bag. The PTA was running an afternoon disco for primaries 1 to 4. There was a tear-off slip on which to enter her desire or otherwise to attend and her parents' willingness to assist. "Dads especially welcome!" it proclaimed. I bit the bullet and signed up, leaving a contact telephone number.

The day of the dance arrived but I had heard nothing. I went along anyway, to find that the reason that they had not contacted me was that there were plenty of helpers, all females. The disco began. As befitted the age-group, the organisers had chosen all the wally "dance with actions" records. Mums and primary teachers happily led the Locomotion, Superman, Birdie Song . . . Suddenly, I found myself unable to move.

Throughout my career I have been to many school discos. In my very early years, when I knew no better, I was all too ready to join in the air guitar solos and Big Country stomps with pupils who were nearer my age than most of the other staff present. There then followed a period of insecurity when I noticed that the senior girls occasionally asked my older colleagues up for a boogie but tended to leave me unnoticed by the assembly hall curtains.

Next came something approaching maturity when I was quite content to stand by the same curtains, noticeable only as a presence that could be guaranteed to intervene should the first-year boys get overly rowdy. They invariably seem more content to chase one another than face almost certain rejection by asking girls out. And, like most teachers at these events, I have had to be the human sniffer dog on the smell-out for Hoochers and Buckie buyers.

Recently I have come to appreciate what rock star Ted Nugent once said: "If it's too loud, you're too old." So back to primaries 1 to 4. Standing by the entrance to the hall, I felt pretty useless. Kids left in twos and threes for the toilet, but there was no point in checking their breath when they returned. Joining in, something I have never had any difficulty in doing when my own kids or their cousins were on home territory, became an almost physical impossibility.

A parent approached me. "You could just go home," she said. "We're fine here." Perhaps it was the background noise, but I detected no hint of "thanks for coming, anyway" in her voice.

To have gone then would have been to have admitted my uselessness. Fortunately, an opportunity soon manifested itself. Juice bottles had to be opened and distributed. I eagerly volunteered to help, then offered to make the tea and wash up the cups. This proved popular and I earned gratitude and a few gently sexist comments.

Does this tell us anything about the difference between primary and secondary teachers, men and women or those in the minority and those in the majority? Don't know. Don't care. I just know where I'm comfortable. To paraphrase a song of the late seventies - I remember the singer's name but not how to spell it - You Will Always Find Me In The Kitchen At (Primaries 1 to 4) Parties.

Gregor Steele now only plays air guitar when Hoovering.

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