Improper suggestions

4th October 1996 at 01:00
MONDAY: I am already beginning to regret my acceptance of the newly-created public relations position which Mr Tod thrust upon me last month. The job - for which no extra pay accrues, but which promises untold patronage in the future (or so our esteemed headteacher assures me) - is proving time-consuming in the extreme, and Mr Tod is anxious for quick results.

"Mr Simpson," he accosted me as I crossed the threshold this morning. "I didn't see any news of the second eleven's victory in the Parkland Gazette last Friday."

"Oh but it was there, Mr Tod," I assured him. "Page six, bottom of column four, along with the rest of the school results."

"But what about a match report?" he queried. "Why didn't you . . . ?" "I did, Mr Tod," I assured him once again, "but they seemed to think that the resignation of three managers in a month from Parkland Rangers was more newsworthy. For some reason," I added quietly.

"Yes, well that's all very well," he bustled angrily, "but I must say I expected a little more, Simpson, when I offered you this opportunity. We're looking for detailed press coverage, and we're looking for positive press coverage - the kind of stuff which gets parents talking about us, and the kind of stuff that'll get bums on seats. And we need it quickly," he frowned ominously. "Do I make myself clear?" "Abundantly, Mr Tod." I pursed my lips in recalcitrant reply and went off in search of the Bullywatch Log-book so thoughtfully set up by Mr Pickup last month. This catalogue of Tod's managerial shortcomings is already into its fifth page, and Pickup confidently predicts that we'll be on to a new jotter by Christmas - not to mention an EIS investigation!

Meanwhile, impending fatherhood continues to occupy my thoughts, not least of which are the financial implications for Gail and myself.

It was with such thoughts in mind that I have decided to place an advertisement in Friday's Parkland Gazette offering my services as an English tutor. I expect a hearty response.

TUESDAY: A day of contrasting pedagogical emotions. The morning interval was initially spoiled by Simon Young overturning a homework policy statement which I had issued to 1N yesterday afternoon. Apparently, in requesting them to learn 10 verses of the poem "Flannan Isle" by heart, I was taking completely the wrong approach, or so my principal teacher informed me.

"Oh?" I raised my eyebrows. "How so?" "Well it was one of the parents that complained, to be honest," he explained. "Janet Henderson's mum was on the phone this morning saying it was far too much homework for a first-year to be given."

"Oh was she, indeed?" I could hardly believe such parental insolence, but kept my temper.

"Well maybe that's a debatable point, Morris, but we negotiated a settlement on it, and I've told her you'll amend the homework."

My jaw dropped, but before I could protest, Simon was carrying on: "The thing that I'm concerned about, to be honest, is the very fact that you're giving them rote-learning exercises at all. Surely you know that kind of thing went out of the window at least 20 years ago."

"To be honest," I retorted angrily, "I've always found it very useful. "

"Morris," Simon laid a calming hand on my shoulder. "Departmental policy is quite clear on the fact that learning takes place most easily and most effectively when placed in a contextualised situation, and that traditional rote-learning methods have little or no educational validity when compared with the osmotic approach to the absorption of information which takes place when a pupil is really interested in what's being discussed, or written about, or even read - as with 'Flannan Isle'. So there's just no point in getting them to learn a poem by heart. Is there?" I sighed, having learned long ago that kicking against the pricks can be a fruitless waste of professional time, not to mention energy. "Indeed not, Simon," I eventually conceded wanly. "I just thought that it would be nice if they could remember something when they left school, that's all." I paused. "Silly of me." My compliance in the matter, and the extracted promise that I would set no further such homework activities for 1N, must have put me in Simon's good books for a change, because his face suddenly creased into a thousand smiles - even if most of them were insincere. "And now for the good news," he continued. "I'm putting you in charge of the top Higher section."

I gulped. "But I haven't had a Higher class for seven years, Simon, not since - not since. . ."

"Yes, well never mind about that, Morris," Simon brushed the recollection aside. "It was all a long time ago, and most of that class went on to do something useful after leaving school, didn't they? Anyway," he continued quickly, "we just heard yesterday that Peter Chittick's got a promotion to an APT up north, and I thought that - what with him likely to be off for another fortnight at least, and the only alternative being a probationer on supply - we might as well give you another shot. And they are the top section, so I reckoned you couldn't really do that much damage if things got sticky again. "

I didn't know which to be more cross about: the back-handed nature of his compliment, or the staggering news that Peter Chittick - one of the most illiterate and uncouth colleagues it has ever been my displeasure to work with, and absent from work for the past two weeks with some spurious stress-related illness - had attained the giddy heights of an assistant principal teacher of English, no matter how far north it was!

Ultimately, I swallowed my pride, raised my head high, and informed Simon that I would be happy to aspire to whatever professional challenge was set before me.

WEDNESDAY: Frantic preparations for my first meeting with 5(i) tomorrow. First on the list was to get them a set of recommendations for their review of personal reading, and I turned in desperation to our English adviser - only to discover that he no longer exists!

Apparently, the latest reshuffling of educational responsibilities within our new unitary authority has seen most advisorate positions either altered, amended or abandoned altogether.

"It's a disgrace," agreed Mr Pickup when he heard of my experience. "What they've done to the advisorate since the break-up of the regions has been the most criminal and vicious dissolution of talents and experience we've ever seen in education - and that's saying something! When I think. . ."

"Hang on," I interrupted. "You used to hate the advisers, didn't you? Said they were all a bunch of time-servers who couldn't hack it in the classroom and spent all their time drinking coffee in the regional offices."

Pickup had the grace to look temporarily embarrassed, but he soon pulled himself together. "Ah, but that was then, Simpson, and this is now - and the goalposts have changed since then."

"How come?" "Because, dear boy, the whole intention of any education authority is to make our life more difficult in the classroom. When they had a barracks full of advisers, they had to justify their existence by organising countless ruddy courses which kept us out of the school for days on end at some useless training venture - which only meant we had to run twice as fast to keep up with the kids when we got back to the classroom."

"And now?" I queried.

"Ah, well - if they're stopping us from having them now, then it's because they think we need them - like you do just now, for example - but they're not going to let us have them. Simple, really."

I shook my head in bewilderment and departed to construct my own suggested list for the review of personal reading.

THURSDAY: The response to my RPR suggestions has been illuminating, to say the least. Having spent the best part of yesterday afternoon on the compilation of a list which would give 5(i) access to the greatest heights of classical literature, I was horrified to have it met with scepticism, hilarity and downright ignorance!

"Sir?" queried Elizabeth Miller. "Who's William Golding? Or Geoffrey Chaucer?" I decided not to embarrass the girl, and suggested she look around the list for an author with whom she would feel more at ease.

She shrugged, as did most of her classmates. "Canny see any that I recognise, " she admitted shamelessly.

I was staggered. After nearly 11 years of compulsory education, this top-achieving group seemed completely unacquainted with the very existence, let alone the works, of such literary giants as Charles Dickens, James Joyce, Gerard Manley Hopkins or even - surely they must have heard of William Shakespeare?

"Oh, aye," admitted Gary Goodwin. "We saw a film he did last year, Romeo an' Juliet, an' we did Macbeth."

"Well that's a relief," I smiled warmly, trying to win them over. "But look, this list isn't proscriptive of other writers. It's just some suggestions for you to think about, because obviously the examiners are going to be more impressed if you've tried to tackle some of the better authors in the canon of English literature. But that's not to say you might not have some valid suggestions of your own. Has anybody got a favourite author?" You'd have thought I'd made an improper suggestion, to be honest. The sole exception was a lad called Bryce Wallace, a bright-looking lad, who informed me that he had already selected his RPR topic, which was to be a study of James Kelman and Irvine Welsh.

"Mr Chittick said it'd be all right, sir," his eyes opened wide. "Said they were tremendous Scottish authors and he'd recommend them to anyone for an RPR."

FRIDAY: A wearisome day at school, but perhaps no more so than any other. I rushed home to await enquiries about my tutoring advertisement. One call looking for a teacher in English as a foreign language and one request for a chicken biryani (my number is not dissimilar to that of Mr Rashmani at the Indian takeaway).

However, it was after tea that my most promising response to date checked in.

"I'm phoning about the advert for English tuition," a well-spoken voice made enquiry. "Are you the tutor?" "That's correct," I confirmed politely, before explaining details of examination practice, literature and language studies to be undertaken and payment rates.

"That all sounds fine," nodded the caller. "My son's usually got on all right with English, but now he's at Higher I think he's finding things a little tricky."

I offered reassurance: "There's quite a gap between Standard grade and Higher, but it's nothing that a little old-fashioned one-to-one tuition plus some cramming won't sort out. And your son's name?" "Bryce Wallace," she explained, as my heart froze in recognition. "He's at that Greenfield Academy, you know, and to be completely frank with you ," she lowered her voice in confidence, "half of the problem's his new English teacher. He's useless so far as I can make out. He's got no discipline, and even less of an idea about the exam requirements, from what Bryce tells me. Hello? Are you still there?" "Yes! Oh, yes! Sorry," I regained my composure swiftly. "Look, I'm, uh, sorry Mrs, er, Wallace," I explained, "but it's going to be a bit of a problem fitting Bryce in at the moment. My, er, Higher class is completely full up just now, and. . ."

"Surely not! Your advert's only gone in today, hasn't it?" "Well, yes, but demand's been. . . look, tell you what, I'll get back in touch if a place becomes available," I gabbled.

"But you haven't taken my number," I heard a disembodied voice protest as I replaced the receiver.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today