Goodness gracious me...;Further adventures of Morris Simpson;School diary
This has given Simon Young, my principal teacher, the opportunity to duck out of attending a course himself. "Good," he pronounced on hearing the news. "That means I can send you to the Higher Still meeting, Morris. It's compulsory that we send someone, but the last one I went to was the biggest waste of time I've ever experienced - and my time's valuable."
Notwithstanding his rude implication that my time was less valuable, I acceded. Frankly, the developments for English at Higher Still are some of the most important syllabus alterations for years, and I think it's reprehensible that a principal teacher doesn't want to be at the cutting edge of such developments. Plus, of course, it is a day out of school for me ...
Tuesday: Mr Tod's been on the warpath about the public image portrayed by Greenfield Academy. He reminded me forcefully this morning that my own remit of public relations strategist for the school seems to have been neglected of late. I refrained from pointing out that my original acceptance of this unpaid position was based upon my cherished - and so far unrequited - aspirations of career opportunities that might arise from the extra work I undertook to the greater glory of the school. Instead, I simply muttered an apology about pressure of work.
"Yes, well, we're all very busy, Mr Simpson," he growled, "but I'm getting tired of the school board asking me why the only news they ever read about our pupils is in the police and court reports. Start getting some decent press coverage, will you?" It's all very well for him to talk, but I've got a host of guidance issues to deal with, not least the problem of Dr and Mrs Patna, who have demanded an interview about the academic aspirations of their eldest offspring, Soumir. Unfortunately, these aspirations are virtually zero in the eyes of all teachers who deal with the child, hence his placement in foundation classes for all six of his Standard grade courses. Dr Patna, however, refuses to accept such judgments, and is most insistent that his son will be sitting "all of his credits or he will be sitting nothing at all, Mr Simpson", as he explained emphatically down the telephone line this afternoon.
I sighed wearily and suggested a meeting on Friday.
Wednesday: Ruth Lees is on the warpath as well: Mr Tod's obviously had a word or three in his depute's ear about the school's public relations programme. Or lack of it.
"We want some ethos in this place, Morris," she demanded peremptorily as she thrust a bulky document on to my desk this afternoon, "and we want it quickly." I gazed in despair at a report entitled Ethos Indicators in the Secondary School and asked her politely what she had in mind and how she felt I could most ably assist.
"It's all in there, Morris," she jerked a thumb at the report. "Read up on it as quickly as you can, and start implementing an ethos policy across the school. And then start telling the newspapers about it."
I ventured to suggest that school ethos was not about the implementation of a few quick-fix policy decisions but was more concerned with long-term goals and consistency of approach to a wide range of whole-school issues, such as school assemblies, school uniform, community involvement, high expectations, and attitudes to academic endeavour.
"Quite honestly, Ruth," I concluded firmly, "school ethos isn't something you can put in a bottle and buy at the local corner shop."
"Ah," she sighed reflectively. "If only you could, Morris. If only you could ..." she tailed off quietly before snapping into life once again. "Anyway!" she grimaced rather fiercely. "That's only part of it, Morris. And a very small part, at that. The rest is just PR - the aspect of your job on which I'd like to focus a little more fully when it comes to appraisal time . . ." she left the threat hanging quietly in the air and pursed her lips meaningfully.
I gulped. "I'll see what I can do, Ruth. I'll see what I can do."
Thursday: Simon Young was right about the Higher Still in-service days. Absolutely right. I have just spent a day of paid employment listening to the most platitudinous collection of humbug that I've ever experienced in 13 long years at the chalk-face. And that's saying something.
Our Higher Still induction course for English began with an introductory address from our adviser (a specialist in several areas, none of them English) which outlined the programme for the rest of the day. It filled out a useful 30 minutes - for the adviser if nobody else. Our "workshop groups" which followed were anything but; each group was given a set of materials to consider and evaluate - a process which took my own group all of 13 minutes from the 55 which the adviser had injudiciously allocated for the exercise. The circular tables around which we were placed proved useful for a great deal of interactive exchange, not to mention the process of thrusting every submitted activity into a large collection of accumulated detritus in the centre.
It was Frank O'Farrell from St Patrick's who suggested the most appropriate activity of the morning: in response to the concluding enquiry on our checklist of questions for the session - "Where do you see the enclosed Higher Still materials being most usefully employed?" Frank grinned broadly and took great pleasure in writing: "To start a bonfire in the middle of our table."
The day degenerated after that, but time and space preclude me from narrating the tiresome catalogue of inharmonious discussions that punctuated our plenary session. Suffice to say that the authority's desire that we "organise ourselves into local steering groups and cascade the knowledge gained today back into our schools" was met with a metaphorical V-sign from every participant present.
Friday: Today witnessed one of the most embarrassing incidents in my entire professional career. Dr and Mrs Patna turned up at 2pm as arranged, but with several assorted younger family members in tow. It became somewhat difficult to conduct an in-depth analysis of Soumir's academic performance when the Patnas' most recent addition to the family circle - a mewling, and occasionally puking, infant of some eight months - persisted in providing an interruptory obligato of shrieks and wails throughout my verbal dissertation on their heir apparent's inability to provide examinable evidence of anything above a Level 6 in each and every Standard grade subject he is sitting.
The interview became even more of a farce when Dr Patna's bleeper sounded a piercing call to medical arms. "Excuse me, Mr Simpson," he consulted his pager, then looked at me anxiously, "but I am being needed in the hospital. Please start to carry on with my wife."
I ignored the possible ambiguity in his instruction and thanked him for taking the time to come and see me. Happily, he took the other perambulatory members of the family with him to "be sitting in the car whilst I am working", so at least my office was less crowded. And a good deal quieter.
I'd like to think that I was getting through to Mrs Patna, because she really did seem to appreciate that Soumir's inability to write his own name with any degree of accuracy was going to prove an insurmountable obstacle to his achieving anything higher than a Level 7 (ie "brain-dead, but managed to turn up for the exam") in most of his subjects, but our conversation was eventually interrupted by the insistent cries of the eight-month-old Tasha, whose demands for nourishment brooked no denial.
"I have sorry, Meestur Seempson," Mrs Patna eventually declaimed, "but I must feed."
"Certainly, Mrs Patna," I agreed, smiling in parental sympathy. "D'you need some hot water? My own daughter was much the same, and - oh gosh!" My expectations that Mrs Patna was planning to produce a bottle of pre-prepared SMA were rudely confounded when she started undoing her sari and proceeded to unhook a heavily-laden nursing brassiere of awesome proportions. "Omph!" I gulped. "Sorry! I didn't realise that you - I mean, would you like to have a private room? Or would you -?" "Eet's all right, Meestur Seempson," she assured me as young Tasha clamped her fervent mouth around a lactating nipple and commenced a voracious sucking. "Now," she continued solicitously. "What were you going to be saying about Soumir?"
The rest of the interview passed in a blur, to be honest. My jaw must have descended several centimetres during the discussion, and, frankly, I can't recall much of what was said. What I can remember - with painful clarity - is Mr Tod's reaction when he walked into my office to witness Mrs Patna refastening her brassiere and expressing her thanks for everything I had done for her.
He stopped short, gasped in disbelief and left the room in a hurry. I truncated the interview with Mrs Patna as best I could, assuring her that I'd use my influence with Miss Tarbet to get Soumir moved up to the general class for social and vocational skills.
Hurrying towards Mr Tod's room to disabuse him of whatever notions had entered his sordid little mind, I was caught short outside Ms Lees' office, whither Tod had clearly ventured.
"And you're seriously asking me to believe," Mr Tod was enquiring of his depute, "that you've asked Mr Simpson - a man I've just encountered interviewing a parent in a state of considerable and provocative undress - to be in charge of the school's ethos policy? You've simply got to be joking . . ."
I reckoned against any form of intervention, deciding that discretion would be the better part of valour. And went, instead, to see if Mr Pickup fancied a pint. Happily, he did.
Next month: Selling drugs at the local petrol station - a transfer from Hillside Secondary brings a new raft of disciplinary problems for Morris Simpson.