The good news, the bad and the ugly
Teacher shortages have affected us once again and I have been landed with three extra senior pupils at the back of my class while Malcolm Saunderson's Higher repeats class is shared out during yet another of the man's stress-related absences. No supply teachers are available, so I've agreed to take a section of the class and let them work on their Higher materials at the back of the room for four periods a week.
It's actually quite difficult to keep them occupied while controlling Visigoths such as Michael Willis and Peter O'Farrell at the front of the room. Anyway, I've asked them to keep the volume down on their personal stereos and we seem to have achieved a modus vivendi, of sorts.
Happily, staff shortages should soon be a thing of the past, as plentiful hordes of teachers from south of the border look set to gird their professional loins and move north in order to take advantage of our extraordinarily generous pay offer from the Education Minister. I must say that I voted "No, No" in the great devolution referendum, but suddenly a Scottish Parliament doesn't seem such a bad idea after all.
Perhaps an Anglo-invasion will be less likely if many of our putative recruits ever chance to come across the likes of our Mr McManus of biology during their travels north of Carlisle.
Coarse Davie, as he is more popularly - and accurately - known, looks likely to have caused further parental uproar over his disciplinary approach to a recent "mooning" incident.
Peter Taylor of 2S, while awaiting the arrival of his biology teacher some 20 minutes into the lesson, is reported to have lowered his trousers in full view of his classmates to give them an unsullied view of his pimply backside. Taylor denied it, of course, claiming only to have swiftly turned his back and lowered his belt.
"That's no true!" Katie Ross had yelled, as I chanced to walk past the McManus laboratory. "He pulled them right doon, an we saw his arse, sur!" McManus held up an admonitory hand and walked into his store cupboard, emerging seconds later with a plastic lower torso and a felt marker. "Right. Wur goanny settle this," he announced firmly. "Each o' youse come up here and mark the torso tae let me know how much of Taylor's arse youse actually saw."
I shuddered at the man's limited command of the English language and scurried along to my guidance office, awaiting the next deluge of parental comments. The man is incorrigible.
Gail and I both spent some time on school work after we got Margaret off to bed. While I marked some jotters, Gail was collating orders for merit stickers on behalf of her primary colleagues. They find congratulatory stickers with encouraging messages ("Well done", "You're a star!", "Great effort!", that kind of thing) to be a useful means of positive reinforcement in the primary sector.
We had an entertaining half-hour selecting appropriate items for inclusion in her bulk order and then an even more entertaining half-hour devising messages for the bespoke section of the order form where, for a small extra payment, teachers can devise their own messages for pupil reward badges.
"I'm a lazy little toad" was one of my personal favourites, along with "I didny do nothing". For Gail, however, her every woe and tribulation seemed encapsulated in the badge she would dearly like to present to a substantial proportion of her current class: "My parents are the cause of all my problems". Alas, she didn't pluck up the courage to add such an item, which I considered a shame.
Even worse, her further reflections centred on the fact that she is still of a mind to send Margaret to Abbotsgrange Academy's preparatory school this August, rather than our own local school, Parkland Primary.
"But, Morris," she urged me once again. "Isn't your own child's education important to you?" "Of course it is, but I just don't happen to believe that she'll get a better education at Abbotsgrange. Not to mention the fact that we really can't afford it."
"Nonsense!" she exclaimed angrily. "With your extra 10 per cent in April, plus mine, and then even more for the next two years, we'll certainly be able to afford it."
How ironic, I pointed out, that the minister's decision to raise state educational standards in this way should be rewarded with such disloyalty from one of the state's very own employees.
"Don't give me that crap, Morris Simpson!" Gail criticised me angrily. "You know how much damage has been done in the past 20 years. And you know fine well it'll be like turning an oil tanker around to get things back to where they should be.
"I've done the sums, Morris, and I want her entered for Abbotsgrange. If you don't do it, then I will!" I decided to let the matter rest for a few days. It's better not to argue with Gail when she's in a mood like that.
If I have to listen to one more child repeating the utterly ridiculous catchphrases from some ruddy television programme that seems to summarise their limited entertainment horizons, then I shall probably send back my television licence in protest.
And now the staff are at it as well! Mr Greig in physics, for example, was heard to be admonishing a pupil this morning with the most whingeing entreaty: "Goanny no dae that, son? Just goanny no?" And McManus - as one might expect - has latched on to one of the programme's more salacious aspects. Why, only this afternoon I was standing in the corridor talking to him as Simon Sheridan of 2S walked past.
"Hi there, sur!" young Sheridan waved a friendly hand.
"Why, hullo Simon!" McManus clapped an equally friendly hand on Sheridan's shoulder.
"Whit d'ye think of young Sheridan, Mr Simpson, eh?" he made enquiry of me. "I hear he's just started oan the masturbatin', isn't that right, Simon?" My jaw dropped in amazement and then dropped slightly farther as Sheridan snorted loudly and put both thumbs in the air, and then told McManus that he'd see him "fur science ramorra, sur".
I was still in a state of shock as we made our way to the lecture theatre for Bob Drysdale's union meeting to advise us on how we should vote in the pay ballot. Bob had prepared a very comprehensive computerised presentation to explain the pros and cons of the agreement, which I found tremendously helpful in making up my mind for me.
Of course, even this wasn't immune to our square-eyed post-pubescent members of staff, nearly all of whom - led by McManus and Greig - placed the backs of their hands against their cheeks and, as one man, and woman, squealed: "Oooooh, PowerPoint presentation!"
And to think that the pay award is supposed to reward our professionalism I Friday It is hard to believe, but some members of staff are voting against the pay award!
Jim Connolly and Mrs Harry, for example, seem to think that their status as assistant principal teachers has been completely eroded in exchange for a heavier workload and a real-time drop in salary. And those more militant members of staff, such as Frank O'Farrell and George Crumley, are voting against it "on principle, because it's more written hours in the contract. And anyway, if we let them think we're satisfied, we'll never advance our terms and conditions again."
Personally, I despair of views such as theirs. And if they were to be replicated to any major degree across the country, then I think the public would view our stance as something akin to that of turkeys voting for Christmas. But I am fairly confident that the profession will unite behind its union leaders and proclaim the offer to be fair and just. Look out for the new cars in the car park after Easter!
In a final attempt to soothe Gail's annoyance and at least convince her that I had taken her request seriously, I dropped in to Abbotsgrange on the way home.
"Thanks," I said, accepting the prospectus from the somewhat condescending secretary in the grandly panelled hallway. "We just wanted to check on entrance examinations," I bluffed grandly, "and we wondered if I "Hang on!" The booklet had thumbed itself open at the page headed "Details of fees", where the figures were substantially higher than I'd been led to believe by Gail. Closer examination revealed a very professional sticker-job, with new calculations placed on top of the previous ones.
"I see the fees seem to have been amended," I tried to be as nonchalant as possible. "Not that it really matters that much," my voice quivered only a little. "I just noticed, that's all."
"Yes," the secretary looked at me coldly, knowingly. "It's the teachers' salary award. The governors have had to make provision for a 23 per cent increase in the salary bill over the next three years, you know. And money doesn't grow on trees."
Indeed not, I thought to myself. Suddenly, Gail's dream looks as far away as ever.
When the good Lord giveth with one hand, he certainly remembers to taketh away with the other.