Bowled over by a happy son

21st May 2004 at 01:00
When I was growing up, the smell of cut grass brought with it the excitement of the new cricket season, a strange concept for many, I know. However, since starting teaching, it is inextricably linked with the exams. Not only that, but there is the weird meteorological alchemy that ordains clear blue skies and hot sun for the start of the Standard grades each year.

Our pupils use a local indoor bowling centre as an examination hall. It is a perfect venue: quiet and removed from the hustle of everyday school life.

In common with every teacher, I suspect, I can't avoid the lump in the throat when the invigilator intones "You may start now!" and 200 heads bend to the task.

This year, however, it's different. This year, it's personal, as my son sits his Standard grades. For the children of teachers, life can be difficult. They have to live with parents who know all the possibilities, the pitfalls and the opportunities. However, for teacher parents, knowing how much to get involved and when to back off can be equally tricky.

I am approaching the status of basket case, but happily my son is far more calm about the whole affair, telling me he is well prepared and paying tribute to his teachers for guiding him towards confidence but not complacency.

Though I am vocally proud of our staff for their hard work and commitment, there is an extra edge to admiration that comes from a parental angle. The ethos of our school and the commitment of its staff and pupils has seen my son develop from an under-confident underachiever to a confident and hard-working, well-motivated student, and I will for ever be grateful to my colleagues for their contribution to this process.

At our last in-service day, I made a non-scientific attempt to quantify the many occasions our staff support pupils outwith the classroom, whether through formal after-school classes, the pupil support system, a quiet word in the corridor, or a welter of extra-curricular activities. The figures I produced, probably on the low side, were 700 incidents a day, 135,000 occasions a year.

Of course, this is not limited to my school, it's a significant quality indicator of our education system. All over Scotland during these few weeks, students will be opening exam papers knowing they have been well prepared by teachers who were more than happy to go the extra mile, and more, to support their pupils.

This is sometimes referred to as "goodwill", but, in fact, it is more to do with professionalism and commitment to the nth degree. It's a significant component of an often unjustly criticised system, and I feel intensely thankful to be part of it.

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