NOT SURE whether your child's teacher is a psychopathic bully or plain stupid? Try this for size. A boy of six, along with his classmates, is asked to write a daily diary for a fortnight. Nothing wrong with that - it's a worthwhile exercise however you look at it. And what he wrote in it was good. I know because his parents sent it to me.
What his teacher wrote in the diary was very cruel by any yardstick. Nasty, belittling comments which would have floored me, never mind a sensitive tiddler with two years' experience of the big, bad world of school. Take this example. The young diarist noted down daily what he had for breakfast. In graphic detail he penned information on his menu and, being fond of his food, his enjoyment of one of life's most pleasurable experiences was evident. What did the wicked witch write? "Peter" - name changed for obvious reasons - "I am not the slightest bit interested in what you had for breakfast - your diary is boring."
Ah, the injustice of it. Little wonder his parents were aerobic in their outrage. How despicable that someone with such huge clout should use it to destroy the self-confidence of a child barely out of nursery school. His parents too were mystified and undermined. Was such off-the-peg nastiness endemic in the teaching profession?
Well, no, I said. I wouldn't have dreamt of commenting in such a manner on the work of a secondary school pupil, never mind a Primary 2 baby. What should they do, the parents wondered? Complaining to the school might just result in more of the same treatment. They delayed and meanwhile they supported the little boy through a quagmire of undermining comments.
Eventually the She-Devil surpassed herself when she sarcastically criticised the youngster's handwriting. Her remarks were like the ramblings of a bitter and twisted forensic psychologist. That was it. The parents were ready to organise the SAS to storm the school. I have to report, sadly, that the problem was not solved until Peter escaped from the clutches of the Wicked One into the relative peace of Primary . This all happened only last year.
OK, so we are not all bullies and we have a difficult job to do and members of the public should try doing it for a day and then they'd know about comments in kids' diaries and everything else. Children are very trying, after all. Even nuns, who apparently possess much more natural saintliness than teachers, are sometimes convicted of abusing their charges. Victims are constantly coming from behind the curtains to complain about past abusers, it seems. Teachers, if they intimidate children, can no longer assume an automatic protection from prosecution.
So, while I may leap to the defence of my stressed colleagues in the teaching profession, I know that the dark side of teaching is the desire to control.
While visiting a school recently I heard screaming and shouting outside a classroom door which struck terror into my heart. Something had obviously snapped. If I had witnessed such an exhibition in the street, I would have whipped out my mobile phone and reported it to the police.
But even more terrifying than the visible demonstrations of adult power over children is the menacing exploiter in the wings. This is the one who switches on the silencer for the firing of bullets and who arranges his features in a demure little line. He distresses kids and never has a moment of self-doubt. More than likely, probing his background would reveal all manner of black shadows which might explain his need to control and manipulate. If you're brought up on cruelty and sarcasm, it's no wonder that you know how to dish it out.
A solution? There isn't an obvious one but I do think that we need to be a lot more rigorous in our selection process for teachers. Acceptable academic qualifications and vaguely presentable communication skills shouldn't be enough to sign up candidates for the profession. Bring on the personality tests, the psycho-babble, the lot. Weed out the power freaks who write horrible things in little kids' diaries and who make teenagers cry. They should have no role in our classrooms.