It's a funny job but I like it;News amp; Opinion

26th November 1999 at 00:00
OCCASIONALLY in class you might get the question "Why did you become a teacher?" or "What do you enjoy about teaching?"

The first question has a selection of answers, ranging from the glib ("Because of John Cairney in This Man Craig and Colin Welland in Kes") to the feasible ("Always liked school myself") to the facetious ("Inertia in final year at university"). However, the second question gets a clearer response: "I like young people and the unpredictability of the job." I had cause to reflect on this last month.

Just before the settlement of the pay and conditions brouhaha, when it was open season in all sections of the media on teachers and their many failings, we had visitors to the school from Albuquerque, New Mexico. They were educationists and business representatives, in Scotland to examine how our schools tackle raising achievement and how we link with the world of work.

Tired and depressed as we were, we set out a programme for them which we hoped would give them an accurate feel for how things were in our part of the country. To our amazement they were thunderstruck. In fact, they only just stopped short of hooping and hollering, and one of them declared a wish to transport our heidie back to New Mexico.

They were impressed by our careers service, the support for schools from local and central government, school links with the workplace and the standardisation of qualifications. Most of all they waxed lyrical about our commitment to meet the needs of all our pupils, not just those most anxious to learn.

They left saying they felt inspired by their visit. It has to be said that the feeling was mutual. We've become so used to negative comment that it maybe took visitors from afar to point out to us the worth of our achievements. The educational roller-coaster was in full flight: from doom to inspiration in a single afternoon.

So it was still with a spring in my step that I entered the third-year English classroom. The discussion on characterisation was toiling a little, so, with my newly acquired vigour, I diverted via the world of soap opera and was rewarded with the light of comprehension. We discussed the development of characters and, inevitably, how this led to typecasting.

"Take Bill Roache," I said. "Even after the first 10 years of playing Ken Barlow, what was his major problem?" "Deirdre!" said Barry in the back row, delighted with his answer.

So it was that the ego definitely landed, right back in the sea of unpredictability that makes teaching, if nothing else, a riveting white knuckle ride.

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