Arnold's World

26th June 1998 at 01:00
This week, instead of "Arnold's World", here's yet another of those day-in-the-life features that seem to crop up in every other newspaper and magazine.

While Conchita (my treasure) draws my bath, I down a restorative mug of camomile and a Bath Oliver dunked in lashings of Royal Jelly. I now feel up to dealing with the inevitable avalanche of fan mail. It's all terribly time-consuming, but it's a cross one has to bear if one chooses to be a teacher.

Marking is another chore, but Conchita (bless her) always has it completed before the limo arrives to take me to school. It's hard sometimes to remember that in the old days teachers had to make do with what we called "the staffroom".

No individual dressing room with one's name on the door! No mirror surrounded by bulbs on which to stick one's good luck cards! No double to do one's parents' evenings! No stunt man to cover break duty! No Green Room where one and one's colleagues can exchange kissy-kissies and huggy-huggy-hug-hugs.

This sorry state of affairs might have continued had not Lord Puttnam drawn attention to how similar the professions of acting and teaching are. He only wanted to highlight the implications this had for teacher training; but those of us already in the profession saw it differently. No sooner had he spoken than, in classrooms throughout the land, a glittering galaxy of stars was born.

We quickly discovered that there was much we could learn from our thespian cousins. For example, in the old days we used to make up our own lessons. It's true that improvisation is fun and challenging, but nowadays, like self-respecting actors, we insist that someone else provides us with our words.

The time will come when the whole of the curriculum will be scripted by government ministers and made available on the World Wide Web. Until then, we have had to make do with whatever texts we can find in our store cupboards.

I had the good luck to find that celebrated classic, Schonell's Essential Spelling List. I have committed it to memory and now perform it to all my classes - regardless of age, ability or how often they have seen me perform it before.

Schonell has obviously been much influenced by Samuel Beckett. He has a courageous disregard for both sense and syntax. His words, however, are wonderful. My rendition of "nouns ending in 'o' that do not take 'es' in the plural" has been described as "an awesome tour de force, not to be missed" - and the reminder of the OFSTED report was equally favourable.

Actors are in the enviable position of having an audience which - other than at the pantomime - remains contentedly passive throughout a performance. Teachers, on the other hand, have to contend with constant audience participation.

Indeed, pupils feel that they are an integral part of the act and the teacher must somehow give them a role to play. To avoid gratuitous ad-libbing, I have given my classes one line that I allow them to utter - but only at the very end of the lesson after the standing ovation.

So before removing my greasepaint and retiring with colleagues to a trattoria to unwind and talk too loudly, I hear pupils speak their line. It is, of course, "Darling, you were marvellous". It's the sort of remark that makes all the hard work seem worthwhile.

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