My good friend and colleague Barbara is having a spot of dog trouble. Her recently acquired six-month-old cockerpoo (that's a genuine cross-breed, honest) is proving to be something of a problem pup.
It's a familiar tale: rescued from a dysfunctional family, Biscuit arrived with a truck-load of canine emotional baggage and is giving poor Barbara more stress at home than her 20 kids at school.
After weeks of sleepless nights, morning carpet-cleaning sessions and lunchtimes spent dashing home to check that Biscuit hadn't wrecked the house, Barbara did what any caring owner would do and called in a dog psychologist.
Dr Dog arrived with a list of references as long as his arm (he's counselled pampered pooches of the rich and famous). At $125 an hour, Barbara hoped he might throw in a few classroom management tips. Well, surprise surprise, Biscuit was diagnosed with the canine version of ADHD, with a tendency towards panic attacks and paranoia. Just like most of her class, then.
The canine shrink observed Biscuit's deranged demeanour and irrational fear of men (ie Barbara's husband, Jim). "Show Biscuit that you're the leader of the pack," spouted Dr Dog. "Ignore his attention-seeking antics. Only respond when he behaves appropriately." The next part was less predictable, but could have major implications for classroom control: Barbara should growl her commands in an authoritative deep voice. Meanwhile Jim, a red-blooded American with a fondness for bourbon and hunting, must adopt a falsetto pitch when talking to Biscuit. (Perhaps this piece of advice won't be a huge hit with male teachers, just as it didn't go down too well with Jim.) Other gems of wisdom from Dr Dog included rewarding positive behaviour and firmly enforcing consequences when Biscuit poops on the rug. Any of this sounding familiar? (Not the pooping on the rug bit, of course) Anyway, to cut a long story short, Barbara learned what every teacher already knows.
And it cost her 400 bucks. Biscuit continues to make steady progress, and Barbara's third graders now know who's the alpha dog in her classroom.
And the moral of this tale? Take heart, dear reader - if the old teaching career goes down the pan, you can probably make a fortune as a dog psychologist.
Mary McCarney is a visiting teacher at an elementary school, in Georgia,USA. She previously taught in Luton