Christmas enlightenment

23rd December 2005 at 00:00

The final week of term brings with it our employer's annual seasonal wish to squeeze every ounce of flesh from us care-soiled teachers, with a Christmas holiday arrangement that ensures the term finishes on December 23, with only one shopping day left until Christmas. I ask you!

And it's not as if anything of valid educational consequence is going to take place this week. Half of my classes are absent for choir practices or assorted seasonal activities, while the other half are playing truant (even if our submissions to the authority don't put it quite like that).

Fortunately, the senior management at Greenfield Academy have shown a degree of flexibility in my own case and acceded to my request for a half-day's leave on Thursday. This is (unofficially) in lieu of time spent exhorting other members of staff (so far unsuccessfully) to follow me on to the chartered teacher programme.

Happily, this will allow me the chance to attend Margaret's Christmas service at Parkland Primary, where she is being afforded a central role in the Primary 5 nativity playlet that forms part of the school's multi-faith seasonal celebration.

I have even managed to make myself extremely popular with her teacher by securing a loan of Helen Tarbet's virtual baby from the social and vocational skills storeroom. This life-like robotic infant can be programmed to behave just like any baby. Its normal usage is to assist in making teenagers aware of the fact that having a child can be an awesome responsibility and an outcome to be avoided for a few years yet. So, although it is set to appear in a story of an unplanned pregnancy, it will be nice to see it being used in an altogether holier context.


Today I began the implementation of a plan to raise the standards of creative writing within my first and second year classes. Some cynics might argue that there is little point in trying to raise creative writing standards when the major leaving examination, the so-called gold standard of the English Higher, makes no assessment of such skills, but I would disagree.

Giving pupils the chance to vent emotions through the written word can inspire incredible acts of cathartic expression, and it was with such thoughts in mind that I decided to use the skills and activities put at my disposal during last week's in-service session led by the educational consultants Visionary Purpose. They had some terrific ideas to get children writing, none more so than creating an air of tranquil calm and halcyon reflection by the provision of candle-lit surroundings.

Thus, equipped with tea lights from a bumper bag at the local DIY store, I set to lighting some before the arrival of 1C.

It certainly had an effect on them, as they charged into the classroom in their usual haphazard fashion. "Oooh!" and "Ahhh!" were some of the more appreciative exclamations, followed by the disappointing oaths of "What the hell?" and "What a bloody ming' surr!" from the likes of Pocahontas McLeod and Jason Bonetti.

Once they had calmed down, however, and after I had explained the reasons behind the candles, they did all seem to agree that it was a worthwhile experiment. So, after I read them some soothing poetry and tried to start their creative juices flowing with some thoughts of innermost reflection, well, they actually seemed to enjoy getting down to writing for once. At last, after 20 years of teaching, I seem to have attended an in-service development session that has provided some decent and realistic suggestions for use in the classroom.

I think I'll alert the media!


"Mainstream" Michael Kerr has been suspended. Again. Once more, he has disrupted Miss Tarbet's social and vocational skills class by refusing to assist with the end-of-class cleansing activities, an area of conduct to which he had signed up in his Return to School affidavit of just last week.

Alas, this time, he has involved other pupils in the disciplinary mayhem that seems to accompany his every step.

The flashpoint on this occasion arose when Miss Tarbet asked our socially included problem child to clean up the sink after the class had made scones.

"Ach, miss!" he had scornfully replied. "Why don't ye stick the sink up yer effin' arse?"

"What did you say?" Miss Tarbet drew breath sharply, but by this time Kerr had lost interest in proceedings and was wandering out of the classroom.

Thus it was that Melissa Chalmers fell foul of the Tarbet wrath.

"Miss Tarbet," Melissa informed helpfully, "he said that you could 'stick the sink up yer effin' arse!' "

To be sworn at by one pupil could be regarded as a misfortune, but to be sworn at by two was guaranteed to raise Miss Tarbet's ire and she sent the poor girl to depute head Kevin Muir forthwith. I happened to be in discussion with him when Melissa arrived for punishment.

"So let me get this straight," Mr Muir questioned her, holding up the referral notice. "According to this, you swore at Miss Tarbet?"

"Naw, ah didny!" Melissa protested her innocence. "She tauld Mikey Kerr tae clean the sink an' Mikey Kerr tauld her whit tae dae wi' the sink, like."

"I'm sorry?" Mr Muir requested elucidation.

Melissa sighed heavily. "When Mikey tellt her whit tae dae wi' the sink, she says 'Ah beg yur pardon?' So ah tells her whit he's saidb that she can stick the sink up her effin' arse! - an' then she turns oan me! But ah didny say it! It wisny me!"

Mr Muir was clearly having difficulty keeping a straight face by now, so he decided to dismiss the case as far as Melissa was concerned, and assured her it wasn't her fault.

"But won't Miss Tarbet feel let down by that?" I questioned him after Melissa had left.

"As far as Miss Tarbet is concerned, Morris," he assured me, "I've just given Melissa three conduct points and a punishment exercise. Because that's what I'll tell Miss Tarbet. And thus, both parties are satisfied with honour."

Truly, it was the judgment of Solomon.


Margaret's nativity playlet this afternoon was an event of mixed emotions.

I can't begin to express the fountains of parental pride that welled up within me as she sat in that stable, accompanied by a Joseph who insisted on picking his nose for the duration of their brief centre stage episode, but whose paternal role included a fairly protective aspect towards my daughter. Especially when she picked up the baby Jesus. And especially when it started crying.

Maybe it was because Margaret's teacher hadn't fully grasped the importance of pre-programming the virtual baby, or maybe it was because Miss Tarbet's instructions had been too minimal. Whatever the cause, it was undoubtedly true that the wretched infant cried at top volume from the moment it was laid in the manger until the moment its putative father picked it up and handed it to my daughter.

Alas, its electronic digestive programme had clearly been set in motion by this time, because Margaret barely struggled through her words before she had to turn her face aside and cough violently into her shawl.

"Aw, whit's that smell?" whispered some of the less discreet attendants, notably two shepherds and an ass.

By this time, the hall was in an uproar, but - all credit to my daughter - Margaret grasped the child firmly in both hands and held it aloft - in a symbolic gesture strikingly reminiscent of Simba atop Pride Rock - and choked out the lines: "Behold, a Saviour is born!"

After which she rushed off stage to the sound of accompanying retching.

As a nativity scenario, it took some beating for realism. I could almost smell the straw.


I am not allowed to use my tea lights any more. Simon Young has just passed on a health and safety edict from the council, which prohibited the use of naked flames within the classroom.

Apparently, this is because there was a near-fatal conflagration at Gail's school, Rockston Primary, earlier this week, when a P6 teacher - who had obviously been on the same course as me - had sought to create the same tranquil surroundings to enhance creative thought.

Unfortunately, she had not thought to ensure that the windowsill upon which she placed her candles was free of inflammatory material and an alarming fire had ensued when a cuddly toy had taken light, after which the plastic blinds had been the conduit to an almost total immolation of the entire room.

Fortunately, the fire brigade arrived in time and disaster was averted. But it was a close thing, and it means that the council has prohibited the use of such stimulating aids. Instead, we are to use battery-powered electric candles.

Frankly, it didn't seem to work very well this afternoon for my last lesson of the year. Admittedly, only five pupils were present, but even they were hard-pressed to find spiritual enlightenment to the accompaniment of 24 flickering electric lights as I asked them to compose words of festive cheer.

"Ach, surr," they complained. It disny feel very Christmassy."

Alas, I could only agree.

Roll on 2006, that's what I say.

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