Good riddance to the good old, bad old days

24th December 2010 at 00:00
As he faces retirement, Glasgow teacher Micheal Coyle reflects on what's changed and what hasn't over the last 20 plus years

As I face early retirement at the age of 58 - from the profession I joined in 1976, left in 1977 and then yo-yoed in and out of until my latest 22-year stretch - I have to reflect on the changes which have occurred in these intervening years. And, of course, what hasn't changed.

When I started, I was given a thick leather belt, a register and a timetable, in that order. I happily assaulted several weans over the next few months, it being part of my unwritten job description to do so, until a harassed heidie burst in and told me off for belting a girl.

Apparently, in my ignorance, this gave me sexual gratification, while hitting boys was apparently a healthy - nay necessary - pursuit, regardless of the assailant's gender. So I had to send errant wee lassies to a female to be belted, while the nun next door would send me her bad boys to punish, presumably because she thought I could hit them harder than she could.

The men's staffroom I frequented was a smoky bastion of tweediness and machismo. Each Thursday, the "table tennis club" convened there to drink until the pubs opened at five. Friday lunchtimes were spent in the pub and we left, in full view of the head, because that was the norm then. People don't believe me when I tell them that, during my first ever parents' night, the headteacher approached me during a lull to tell me there was "a cup of tea" in the staffroom. This proved to be a large carry-out of beer and whisky, provided by the head as a thank you for those who had attended; in those days, it was not mandatory.

We had no syndromes or disorders to contend with. Children were able or not, and failure was down to stupidity andor laziness. Nowadays, failure doesn't exist - except in teachers - and children who can't or won't perform well in certain subjects are supported, analysed, labelled, praised and rewarded. They are never told they aren't any good at something.

Management, too, has changed. Gone are the overweight, red-faced, boozy heads of my youth, replaced by tanned and trim youngish men and women who more resemble middle-management at IBM. And the language they speak has mutated from bellowing and hectoring into a kind of motivational nu-speak, replete with acronyms and maxims and very little actual meaning.

Of course, teaching has taught me that cynicism is easy, and sniping a cinch. So I have to admit that teaching nowadays, for all its faults, is so much better than when I was a mere tyro. As a parent, I could not bear the idea of someone hitting my children, or punishing their idiosyncrasies, or even breathing alcohol over them on a Friday afternoon.

In my current position, I find young people much, much less aggressive than a generation ago; and if they are a little bit more argumentative than before, then so be it. Teachers too, by and large, are a more understanding bunch, and cope admirably with the constant evolution of education. Yes, and even the managers are a little less scary.

So all in all, I think I am leaving a profession which is in relatively good health. But I am still glad to be going.

Michael Coyle is a teacher in Glasgow.

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