Anarchy still rules

23rd July 2004 at 01:00
But it is the middle-aged teachers who are pushing the barriers, as Nick Patterson knows too well

When I was in the sixth form, I hated my trainee teachers: trainee teachers who advised you on the best place to take "your girl" to eat; who grew their hair long and didn't wear a tie; who asked if you were going to see Elvis Costello on Sunday.

What I hated most was the way they tried too hard to be your friend. I was, let's be frank, a rather reluctant A-level student, but where I did score was in my almost microscopically detailed knowledge of New Musical Express, the only thing I ever read cover to cover in my two years of study. What I didn't want was some trainee teacher muscling in on what I saw as my territory.

Now, as a fully paid up member of the miserable old git school of teaching, I still feel the same thing. But in reverse. Alex, a Year 13 student of mine, has discovered I like the Smiths, and recently flounced into the room with the exclamation: "Isn't 'There is a Light That Never Goes Out' the best Smiths song?" I could hardly ignore him and murmured in reply something about "This Charming Man" (which is the best Smiths song).

This event reignited in me that basic teaching paradox. Even though teachers rub shoulders with teenage students for something like two-thirds of the year, there is one simple principle that should be adhered to at all times: teachers must know nothing about youth culture and should make every effort to prove this during the working day.

There's nothing worse than seeing your dad wearing Lycra shorts, there's nothing worse than teachers ingratiating themselves with long-haired, anarchic, left-wing future revolutionaries by sharing their love for Franz Ferdinand or the Von Bondies.

Talking of which, where are the long-haired, anarchic, left-wing future revolutionaries? Didn't you just love all that when you were at school? Sweaty nights down the Trinity Hall waiting into the small hours for Joy Division or the Teardrop Explodes to get on stage while your essays lay half chewed on your desk at home; pretentious Jean-Luc Godard movies at the arts centre with a couple of Jacques Tatis for light relief; Rock against Racism marches; slim volumes of Roland Barthes sticking out of your jacket pocketI Don't you miss all that?

And here's a further paradox: I know I have to appear permanently middle-aged and uninformed, but I still appreciate a good bit of left-field thinking. Most of my students seem to want to support Spurs, just like their dads, and do their homework as soon as they get home. So, it was with a real shock of true excitement that I noticed mild-mannered Martin had graffitied his student organiser with the anarchy symbol.

Nowadays, feeding Kitty an extra sachet of Whiskas on the sly is as anarchic as it gets in my house, so I couldn't help but follow this one up.

Were there hidden depths? Were Martin's frequent failures to complete an essay his way of undermining the system? Was he about to stand up and denounce the conservative hierarchy of the school and all who worked with it? No, no and - most definitely - no. Martin didn't know what anarchy was and meekly subjected himself to a lunchtime of ironing past exam papers as punishment for his missing essay.

Oh well, if the students won't provide the excitement, I'll just have to throw back the carpet, roll down the blinds, slip the cats a foil tray of Felix and throw the Von Bondies' Pawn Shoppe Heart on at full volume. If you can't join them, beat them.

And trainee teachers now? I still hate them. You train 'em up and then off they go and get a job in an independent school and come back the next day to thank you for teaching them all they know. But that's rock 'n' roll.

Nick Patterson teaches at Bishop Stortford's high school in Hertfordshire

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