The future is pierced

7th November 2003 at 00:00
I could have done without this. ER had asked me to give a talk to the new intake at the university on "The teacher of the future". At least it's a day away from the moans, groans, phones and roans. I need a break, and this is the closest I'm going to get.

Not for me the dizzy social whirl of conferences, seminars, launches and events. Not for me the corporate breakfast meeting, the random "pastoral visit" or the unexpected call-out. I always find it interesting that the pastoral visits coincide with fine weather, and invariably end up including a fine bar lunch in an appropriate rural hideaway. Maybe one day, I'll become an Assurer of Quality. Then again, maybe not.

I arrived in good time, and began to wonder if I'd got the right date, time, venue and indeed, planet. "Naebody tells me a ******* thing!" was the janitor's friendly greeting. There are no tables set out. There are no signs. The place is deserted.

Finally, after a cup of what was laughingly described as coffee, someone appears. She is a refugee from the former college of education, one of the few who escaped the cull which followed absorption into the university. She bears a badge which tells her who she is. She is a member of the faculty.

Good for her.

"You must be Mrs McKenzie?" she asks.

"McElroy," I corrected her. I produced the letter she had sent me. "Are you sure?" she asked, pulling down the glasses she had mounted on her head. I was. She launched into a tirade against the university, the lack of communication, the anonymity, the lack of care and attention, the price of fish and the war in Iraq.

She was not a happy lady. She bemoaned the passing of that Golden Age of Scottish Education, when girls were girls and men were quickly promoted, when academic rigour was all and when staff were bursting with enthusiasm, energy and imagination.

I sniffed curiously. Was she on something? My recall of the place was significantly different, and I recalled the three Gs of Gauloise, Gautier and Grolsch, standing out in a plain of mediocrity.

The waif informed me that "they" had made another mistake, and that the talk was in another part of the campus. Hadn't I got the message from Elizabeth Rose? Indeed I had not.

Anyway, the new students soon started to arrive. They looked like last year's primary 7s at the Christmas disco. A navel display greeted me. I thought I was at an Egyptian belly dancers' convention. There were more thongs than you'd find in an Ann Summers shop window, and more piercings than you'd see in a casualty ward on a Saturday night after an Old Firm match.

I felt overdressed, overweight and decidedly ancient. I homed in on the few mature students, and felt much easier. They had been in the real world, and their enthusiasm was commendable and refreshing.

We were ready to start. This time, the waif introduced me as Mrs McIvanney.

I gave it my best shot, painting a picture of the greatest job in the world, the delights and the rewards of shaping young lives. I felt good.

"Hello Mrs McElroy! Remember me?"

I looked quizzically at the Britney Spears cap, the studs in the lip, ears and nose. I noted the strawberry pink lipstick and the green mascara. I was at a loss to recognise the voice.

"It's me - Jimmy, Jimmy Davidson. You taught me in P6."

My gob was well and truly smacked. "So it is."

I blurted out stupidly: "How you've eh . . . changed." I felt an absolute idiot.

"Aye it's me, Jimmy. I used to be a Goth, but now I'm a Trannie." My jaw dropped even further.

"I've always wanted to be a teacher like you, Mrs McElroy. You were dead brilliant, so you were."

I felt great. And who's to say that Jimmy won't make it into the brave new world of teaching? Reports, integration, assessment, differentiation - go on yersel, Jimmy boy!

The kids would love Jimmy. He would inspire them. He was a born mimic, and had a wicked sense of humour. He would work his little socks off, and he would understand the children. He, too, came from the estates and he had to struggle to make ends meet.

I was a role model. I had inspired someone. One of my pupils from St Pat's had actually made it. As I left the staff car park, my thoughts turned back to that P6 class. I could still see them. Some are now shop assistants, tyre fitters, postmen and painters. Others have never worked. But Jimmy was going to be a teacher!

But Jimmy son, go easy on the eyeliner. It clashed with the cap. Art was never your strong point.

Bridget McElroy

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