Arnold's world

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
Several of my less perceptive readers have written to ask about the photograph to the left of this column. They want to know why I am balancing a globe on the end of my finger. They fail to appreciate that it is spinning at breathtaking speed; that my left hand is about to emerge from my pocket clasping flags of the world, a white rabbit and a member of the audience's braces.

If the whole photo was published, they'd see I am sitting on a unicycle, cavorting before a troupe of reluctant seals which I am encouraging to bark out a medley of hymns normally sung in school assemblies.

The photograph proves beyond doubt that a human being is capable of performing several remarkably difficult - if remarkably silly - tasks simultaneously. It was taken to illustrate a manual for those who wish to qualify as "advanced skills teachers".

It should, at least, appeal to Chris Lindup, headteacher of Merrywood Comprehensive in Bristol, who has put juggling at the core of the curriculum and even insists staff have a go. It's his ingenious way of instilling self-confidence, improving self-esteem and suchlike. Merrywood, it seems, is one school where the load of balls routinely doled out on in-service training days could be of some practical value.

Ex-pupils can make you feel old, especially when they provide ample proof that youth is a stuff which will not endure. I met one last week - paunch, bald patch and double-chin - who took me to task for docking him a half-mark in a mock exam he had sat at about the time the Bay City Rollers' Shang-A-Lang was topping the charts.

In those days, I was still young and ruthless with my red pen. I had insisted that "all right" could not be written as a single word. He had lived with my ruling for many years - and then ITV started broadcasting its amusing anthologies of television cock-ups It'll be Alright on the Night. He cannot read the opening credits without cursing my name.

All I could do was apologise and - posthumously, as it were - return his half-mark. Honour was satisfied. I noticed a boyish bounce in his step as he strode off to his R-reg BMW. Despite my red pen, the boy had done alright.

The first of what I hope will be a regular series of handy hints is from a teacher who can still recite the names of the pupils he taught in 1962. More remarkably, he claims he made no attempt to discover the name of any pupil he taught from then until his retirement in 1987. He simply addressed all pupils by the names he had gone to the trouble of learning in his annus mirabilis.

His approach is based on the theory that every class contains an identical mixture of pupils. For example, there will invariably be a girl who always has bad hair days and a boy with unusual ears. "If you have learned their names once," he asks, "why go to the bother of learning a completely new set just because it's a different class? It's much more efficient to have each child learn one new name, than for a teacher to learn 200 or more every year. "

His pupils, it seems, were initially bewildered by his novel approach, but soon came to accept it as no more absurd than many other facets of school life.


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