Another August. Another new session. And another in-service day tomorrow, before the rampaging hordes arrive on Wednesday. And in spite of the fact that the forthcoming academic year will see Greenfield Academy across the threshold of a new millennium, I find myself increasingly dispirited at the prospect of a return to work.
I went into school this morning to check up on the Standard grade and Higher passes of my classes from last session. Alas, I had to wade through the usual litany of under-achievement and non-achievement, with a set of results that made me wonder whether any of the pupils I'd entered for examinations had actually attended my class over the past year. In my earlier flushes of youthful enthusiasm, I rushed in on the first available day after the results were issued to check up on my charges' achievements; but there doesn't seem much point any more.
My first ever in-service day
without Mr Pickup. It seemed somewhat empty without my recently retired mentor, so I took it upon myself to try and fill - however inadequately - some of his normal duties on the first day of term.
This involved greeting all members of staff at the lecture theatre door as we gathered together for our first staff meeting. Adopting my most funereal pose, I bowed slightly, shook everyone by the hand as they entered, and
murmured "Commiserations" or "Deepest sympathy, terribly sorry" in as solemn a voice as I could muster.
Most of them understood my stand-in role for an absent friend, but a new member of staff - a callow youth if ever I've seen one - looked at me most oddly and clearly thought I was from the planet Peculiar. I resolved to explain the joke to him before we began the meeting.
Mr Tod gave little time for idle chit-chat, however, so I had to postpone the explanation; yet again, our esteemed head-teacher's injunction to switch off the tea-urn when not in use made an appearance, and yet again he chose to take up most of the morning with a seemingly unending stream of bureaucratic requirements that sent most of his audience to sleep.
It was only with Ms Lees's
session, which she devoted to her Revised Uniform Directive Enforcement (an unfortunate acronym if ever I've heard one), that we all woke up. Slightly.
"First of all, it's not going to be called a uniform policy any more," she explained. "It's going to be called a dress code. I've already consulted with some of the guidance staff about this, and have secured full agreement," she announced grandly. She then looked sharply askance at me, in passing reference to our little
discussion last month, wherein she promised her support for my PT guidance application in return for my support on her dress-code policy. "As of next month, we're allowing pupils to opt out of uniform if they have a letter from their parents ..."
"That's assuming any of them can write," I whispered to George Crumley, as our deputy head continued.
"But if they do opt out, they have to wear this badge for
security reasons." Whereupon she held aloft a tawdry plastic insignia, two inches high and made of fluorescent yellow
plastic, in the letter formation GA, all of it tentatively attached to a piece of hairy white string.It would certainly encourage any teenager to wear uniform.
The first day of the session proper, and Mr Pickup proved true to his word.
There he was at the school gates, relaxing in a deck-chair, ankles crossed, and a Guardian newspaper opened wide in the breeze. As each member of staff drove through the entry portals, he would lower the paper, touch a forefinger to his brow, and
proceed to give the cheeriest of waves.
And then when the bell rang out at five to nine, as I watched from the B floor staffroom
window, he stood up, folded the deck-chair, and turned towards the front of the school. Slowly and imperiously raising himself to his full height, he stretched out both arms, then extended hands and forefingers in the direction of the school. With a sudden and violent jerk, he gave the most almighty pair of V signs I've ever seen him give (and that includes the notorious occasion behind Mr Tod's back during our last industrial dispute).
Chin in the air, he turned on his heels, and was gone. As a parting gesture, it had an air of finality that was deeply impressive and slightly moving. What a shame so few people witnessed it.
Our new member of staff, Malcolm Saunderson, has turned out to be in the English department. To be honest, he seems a little naive: only this morning, he was telling me that this is his first post, and he's on supply.
"But I fully expect to be made permanent pretty soon," he assured me with confidence. "I got very good grades at teacher-training, and I reckon I'll be offered a full-time post by the end of term." I refrained from offering my opinion that neither Miss Jean Brodie nor Mr Chips would have been likely to secure a permanent position by the turn of the century in today's climate. Instead, I proffered a hand of friendly welcome to the department, asking him whether he'd got his senior class textbooks from the store cupboard yet.
"No, but I reserved them with Simon Young when I came in during the summer," he replied brightly. "Lord of the Flies and Macbeth for my Higher class."
"Ah. Yes, but have you actually got them yet?" I queried further, fully aware that I planned to cover the selfsame texts with my own Higher class this term.
"Nope," he shrugged. "I thought I'd pick them up tomorrow when I actually get the class. Why? Is there a problem?"
"No, no," I hastened to
reassure him. "Shouldn't be. I
think we've got plenty of those anyway."
"Fine," he smiled as I bade him farewell - after which I scurried off to the store cupboard to secure my own supplies.
I think Malcolm Saunderson is going to be a bit of a nuisance. He spent all of this morning's department meeting complaining that all of the books he'd planned to use for his senior classes had already been taken when he got to the store cupboard and he's been left to make do with a half-set of Animal Farm, many of which had several pages missing.
Simon Young offered appropriate commiseration, of course, but when Malcolm continued to enquire about departmental administration ("Why is it that I've got three first-year classes for only half of their English time?" and "How long d'you think it'll be before I get my own classroom?"), I could see that Simon was beginning to lose patience.
I decided to give the lad a few quiet words of advice in the staffroom at lunchtime, but was rather taken aback to realise that he was sitting in my chair, the very one bequeathed to me by Mr Pickup at the end of last session. And he was even drinking out of my mug!
"Oh!" I gasped, startled, and was about to take kindly issue with him; before I could speak, however, he'd started on me!
"Morris?" he questioned. "I've not even got the books I wanted for my fourth year! It seems to me that the whole system of issuing books here is up the creek. I distinctly explained to Simon that I had some terrific teaching notes from college on these texts, and now I'll have to get a whole new set ready.
"It seems that it's a case of survival of the fittest - whoever gets to the store cupboard first gets pick of the books, and that's just not fair! Nobody told me about that!"
For a moment, I looked back 15 years and saw myself complaining to Mr Major, in exactly the same situation: eager to do my best, looking for support from my colleagues - and finding myself alone and unsupported. I felt a sudden pang of sympathy.
Then I looked at where the little upstart was sitting and thought better of it.
"Well, you'll know better next year," I explained brusquely. "And - uh - that's where I usually sit," pointing to my chair. "Don't bother about it today, but I'd be grateful if you could leave it vacant in future weeks. And you'd be better to bring your own mug or take one of the communal cups rather than use other people's personal property."
He looked suitably chastened. I might soften up on him later in the term, but I always think it's better to start as strictly as possible. He looks as if he might have the makings of a good teacher.