Blind dogs for the guides

5th September 2003 at 01:00
Now we're into September, hopefully academic amnesia is wearing off. This is the familiar ailment that strikes after the summer holidays, when the names of familiar pupils and, in the worst case scenario, colleagues, disappear completely from our memories and we are forced to employ all manner of deceits to disguise the fact.

We've had a further development of the affliction in our school recently and we've tended to forget that not all pupils start from the same knowledge base. Two examples will suffice; more would be embarrassing.

With asylum-seekers featuring strongly in the news and most of our communities in central Scotland having a multi-ethnic composition, not to mention River City (and let's not), it's easy to assume that all our pupils are familiar with the names and customs of many nationalities. Not so, apparently, at least in the case of Barry in our second year. With a troubled background, his life has been hard and I approached him at the school entrance, well after 10am one morning last week.

He was unusually smiley and desperate to tell me where he had been. "I'm no late, sir, I was at my psychiatrist." Here he started to giggle. "You'll never guess his name, sir - it's Dr Radge!" Obviously more acquainted with Irvine Welsh's Edinburgh patois than Asian first names, Barry thought this was a "pure magic name for a shrink".

One of our principal teachers similarly overestimated one second year's powers of comprehension. He spent some time explaining that they would not be having their favourite teacher this session as she had a placing with the council and, although everyone would miss her, it was good for her and the school that she had obtained this secondment.

He felt he had fulfilled his duty to the class by explaining this staffing issue clearly and in detail, until he followed one of the pupils down the stairs at interval and overheard his report back to a friend from another class: "Hey, we're no getting Miss Kelly for English this year!"

"How no?"

"She's gone into a convent."

A case of the class being nun the wiser, perhaps.

It's all a kind of knowledge-based equivalent of the apocryphal tourist information which stated: "You can't get there from here, you have to start from over there." So our personal development plan this session will include assessing the pupil's abilities before pitching the message, just to avoid any misunderstandings.

Mind you, it's all in vain when the mouth refuses to do the brain's bidding. Few of us who were present will ever forget the memorable assembly when the guidance teacher launched a major fundraising initiative to help train blind dogs for the guides.

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