It's a wonderful profession

19th December 1997 at 00:00
Perhaps at this time of year, I might be excused an excursion into whimsy. So imagine if yez will, the scene on a bleak December day in any school.

A teacher sits forlornly at a desk wondering what is the point of it all. He has a tower of prelim papers to mark, and he's just swapped angry words with a colleague who has trouble with the concept of child-centredness. Since the publication of national exam results, every teacher he knows is walking around with numbers, like the sign of the Devil, tattooed on their forehead, and some are suicidally defensive.

He has bought no Christmas presents because he can't allow himself to recognise how near it is to the end of term, because of all his unfinished business. To cap it all, Big Davie, a large fourth-year lad with a short fuse, has finally lost it completely and is now permanently excluded. Our teacher is at a loss to see what effect he has on anything or anyone around him.

Just as he reaches his lowest point there is a knock at the door, and in comes an Angel. He berates the teacher for his pessimism and embarks on a tour to show him how much worse people's lives would be without the work of such committed staff.

Ah, you've spotted it . . . it is true that Frank Capra patented this scenario with Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life some 50 years ago, but it remains an interesting exercise to the world of education today. So, to continue the whimsical approach, as departments grapple in the corridors over the use of televisions and videos (for educational purposes, of course) in the last days of term, what would our Angel's tour reveal?

Would we see Big Davie, in years to come giving his children positive messages about school, as he comes to realise the support he received himself? Would the tour take in the single parent, supported by guidance staff with time and coffee, who is helped to recognise that she is not alone in the problems she faces?

How about the bullied pupil whose fears are addressed by an efficient school policy and the ready and friendly availability of a favourite teacher? Or the third-year pupil, confused and worried by a new Standard grade course but reassured through the extra work and attention after school by a young teacher? Will the Angel show the joy on the face of a young musician or footballer as they collect a medal, or make their parents proud at a family gathering, and quietly recognise the part played in their success by their teacher?

Would it be possible to view the successful businessman or woman, pausing to remember that special moment in class when a teacher provided the inspiration for a rewarding career?

If the tour travels far enough, can it take in the thousands in many lands who receive help and support from workers who were inspired by the example of those who taught them at school?

And to end the tour, how about a drink in one of the many Christmas-time bars and clubs and restaurants where old friends gather to reminisce and enjoy their memories of school and teachers?

Sentimental? Of course, but only in keeping with the original meaning of Christmas. Exaggerated picture? Not at all. Although it brings its own responsibilities, we should never underestimate the influence, albeit sometimes delayed or half disguised, that we have on our pupils.

The trouble is that, in the absence of angels, these effects can't easily be tabulated. That is different from saying they don't exist. So have a well earned holiday.

Sean McPartlin

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