Days of dread and glee;Opinion

20th August 1999 at 01:00
SEEING THREE people in white coats walking towards you on the first day of term is guaranteed to cause a sharp intake of breath, until the realisation breaks that they're new science technicians.

One previous headteacher of mine always welcomed staff back by saying wistfully how he'd much rather be in a sheep fank in Lewis, but it didn't stop the annual reading aloud of the fire regulations and large chunks of the school handbook by the depute.

This has now been superseded and heidies seem to have been issued with rocket technology kits that allow them to screen graphics and pictures with an effortless panache aimed at persuading staff of their overall competence.

After the opening session teachers would compare suntans and holiday stories (no one ever admitted to a bad holiday), and then there was the year that a teacher had to be phoned at her hotel in Ayr as she had mistaken the date of the in-service day.

Devious principal teachers homed in on the room where the stationery had been divided and laid out. Heaven help the department that visited last thing in the day for its allocation. One unprincipled principal regularly hoovered up half of the school supplies until a better system was adopted.

My own first day at the beginning of the seventies found 27 other starter teachers looking equally nervous. The friendly face that told you where the toilets were or how to buy a dinner ticket was the one that you remembered. More than 300 teachers recently applied for eight assistant teacher vacancies in our school, showing how far the pendulum has swung. Not a great start to the term for all those eager to begin but who don't have a job.

Sometimes new principal teachers also find the opening day a trial. My wife remembers a meeting where the department was instructed about the regulation width of margins for jotters, and the colour of the line to be drawn after each exercise. The 55-year-old assistant head and the 47-year-old assistant principal teacher thought it was a joke - but, sadly, no.

Earlier in her school career she watched a child aged four-and-a-half dragged screaming into her first day at primary. Eighteen years later this same reluctant ingenue was a Scotland hockey international and taking up her first job in her old school.

I like the approach of the infant who had been looking forward to "going to school" for weeks. The first day passed without trauma, much to the parents' relief. But the following day he refused to get out of bed. "I've been to school," he said. He had seen the future and it didn't work.

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