Of cod and viagra

9th January 2004 at 00:00
Stephanie Northen looks at some of the more surreal events that happened in classrooms last year

You already know that teaching is a challenging job. Every day can bring new and sometimes bizarre challenges. You may not need to be Lara Croft to pin up your classroom displays, but you should keep your wits about you.

The strangest things happen in schools.

Consider the case of the cad with the cod. This was the Norfolk pupil who arrived one morning with a fish's head. (Don't ask why, he just did.) The boy then fingered poor David Watkins, his headteacher, accusing him of trying to push it into his mouth. Soon, the 51-year-old was up in front of magistrates, protesting his innocence. After his acquittal last October he insisted the nightmare experience was not going to drive him out of education. Clearly a god among cod. Post your CV now.

Dedicated headteachers are not unusual. Take Colleen McCabe. She was devoted to the jobI the job of stealing her Catholic school's funds.

Half-a-million quid, to be precise, which went on jewellery, restaurants, holidays and pound;7,000 on shoes (for the pupils, of course). Meanwhile, she refused to buy books or heat the classrooms, and made teachers clean the rat-infested school. At least her penny-pinching meant they only had one crucifix to polish.

From crime to violence. With four-year-olds being accused of attacking staff, new teachers may feel inclined to sign-up for self-defence lessons.

But only qualified Ninja Turtles would have been safe from the parents armed with razor-sharp weapons who attacked a Brighton primary last summer.

Peace finally returned to the playground when the nest of baby seagulls, plus mum and dad, were removed to a wildlife sanctuary.

Sanctuary for a teacher at Rhyl high school in north Wales turned out to be his local casualty department. The chap might have spent Friday September 19 looking forward to his end-of-week takeaway. But then a CS gas canister was exploded in the science block. He, and 25 tear-gassed pupils, were taken to hospital. There they were checked over, given a drink and sent home. Hopefully they spared the teacher the last one.

More NHS funds were drained by six Year 8 boys at a Berkshire comprehensive who swallowed Viagra pills in their lunchbreak. They suffered no ill-effects - though the teacher who had to tell their parents is probably still recovering.

Their exploit might have been more understandable if they'd been at school in the Ukraine. There, poverty-striken heads are renting out spare classrooms as brothels and strip bars. The biggest, at Odessa's school number 5, was luxuriously equipped with a sauna and a bar.

Prostitution also helps out education in Nevada where it was announced last year that teachers are to have part of their wages funded from a new tax on "live entertainment" - brothels. These are legal in the state and the best-paid of the 3,000 "hostesses" can earn up to pound;30,000 a month.

Clearly prevention is better than medication when it comes to the dangerous life of a teacher. But perhaps things were taken a little far in Portsmouth. In October, "HMS Torbay" slid into port. All schools within a two kilometre radius were sent anti-radiation pills in case the nuclear sub went belly up. Nervous young staff might have appreciated a bottle of Rescue Remedy as well, while older ones must have wondered if nuclear incidents count towards an early retirement request.

At least new teachers know that the Government is trying to ensure that they have a life as well as a job. But it's not easy. According to one teaching union, staff are now getting stressed out by heads' attempts to relieve their stress. So many social activities and meals out are being organised that it is generating fears of bankruptcy. There is also a faint possibility that by Friday they might have had enough of their colleagues.

They might want to be alone.

Still, there is always the private sector as a possible refuge. There's a posh boys school in Hampshire for anyone who likes routine, sorry tradition. Nothing much changes at the pound;18,500-a-year Winchester College (those are the fees, not the salary) and that's the way the staff like it. The attitude is "we have been having tea at 4.45pm since 1382. How can we possibly change that?" By buying a jar of instant coffee, perhaps?

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