Argon is inactive. And Michael is taking the ..

22nd April 2011 at 01:00

"Here you are, Mr Eddison," says Ms Efficiency, pushing a sheaf of official-looking documents into my hands. Anticipating my natural tendency to avoid reading anything remotely connected with officialdom, she adds: "You have a new pupil starting Monday."

There is a glimmer of a smile on her face. "And is there anything I should know about this pupil?" I ask.

"Just his name," says Ms Efficiency. She taps the top sheet. I read where she indicates. I look back at her. She is still glimmering.

"So, Argon, how's it going?"

Argon looks benignly at me. At least I think he's looking at me. It's difficult to tell. His lazy eye has been magnified to the size of Neptune by one lightly scuffed lens. His other lens is covered with sticking plaster.

I sigh deeply and try again. "So, Argon, how's your first morning been? Maths OK, was it?" There is still no response and in the intervening silence I'm thinking ... Argon ... an inert gas ... derives from the Greek word meaning "the inactive one".

I don't get the chance to do much thinking. The primary classroom doesn't lend itself to philosophical musing. The idea that primary teachers indulge in long periods of reflection about their practice only happens in the imaginations of those who have forgotten how exhausting it is to be a classroom teacher. And let's face it, they reflect enough for everybody.

Shorter periods of thoughtfulness are possible, though; especially during a conversation with Argon. In fact, right now I'm pondering the Big Question: nature versus nurture. Do children's names shape society's perception of them, or are the names of certain personality types biologically pre-determined? The second proposition sounds crazy, I know, but let's look at the facts.

Experienced teachers, after no more than a cursory glance down the register, know precisely what a new class will be like. For example, a list that includes Tristan, Olivia, Tobias, William and Catherine will engender a degree of inner peace, whereas one that reads Nathan, Courtney, Rogan, Brad and Britney will bring on a panic attack.

Is this because teachers are prejudiced towards children with traditional middle-class names? Of course not! Which leaves one possibility: at a subconscious level, Mr and Mrs Watson knew little Rosie was predisposed to be pretty but in constant need of attention. Jakleen's mum was intuitively aware her daughter would - despite having good phonic skills - be poor at word recognition. Ali's dad had an instinct his boy might be heavyweight champion of the playground. Troy's parents had innate feelings their son might develop a talent for horseplay leading to overwhelming destruction. Michael's parents were, frankly, taking the piss ...

My musings are brought to an abrupt halt when I realise Argon is no longer beside me. I look for him but there is not a trace. His very being has dissipated into the ether.

Steve Eddison is a key stage 2 teacher in Sheffield.

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