It's time to give some thought to the future
Kevin Muir, one of our depute headteachers, is trying to persuade as many of us as he can to embark upon the chartered teacher programme. So far, the only taker has been Bill Chalmers from the technical department. By all accounts he undertook the course less for the sake of his professional development than for the fact that it is an ideal means of boosting his final pensionable salary (he is due to retire in three years).
Unfortunately, I made the foolish mistake of displaying potential interest when Kevin alerted me to the possibility of the first module being paid for by taxpayers rather than ourselves.
"So what about it, Morris?" he urged at lunchtime. "If the General Teaching Council's plea is accepted, it will mean that the first pound;600 is paid for you. And once you get started on the programme, I don't think you'll regret it, especially when it comes to that extra seven grand in your pay packet each year for ever after."
"Well, it wouldn't be an extra seven grand for me, Kevin," I reminded him.
"Remember, I'm conserved on my guidance salary."
"Yes, but it would still be a lot of ..."
"And anyway," I continued, "I'd actually wondered about applying for another developmental course."
"Oh?" he cocked his head. "Which would that be?"
"Scottish Qualification for Headship," I intoned innocently. "I think it's about time that I moved on in my career and that would seem a more appropriate pathway for me to ..."
Kevin was coughing violently into his handkerchief by this time, so I stopped and raised an eyebrow. "Could I get you a glass of water?" I offered solicitously.
"No! No, thanks, Morris. Ahah! Ahah!" he pretended to sneeze violently and turned away, his shoulders shaking uncontrollably.
It certainly shut him up, for the time being at least.
Why should we have to pay for our own professional development? That's what I say.
The SQA examination period approaches and I view with restive gloom the halcyon days of yesteryear - or even last year, come to that - when the annual period of study leave would be almost upon us at this stage. Alas, it is now a thing of the past, at least in our authority, as it's believed that most pupils did not use the time effectively for revision.
Sadly, it has meant the abandonment of our annual staff S9crabble championship for the first time in more than 25 years.
Instead, much of the senior management's time has had to be devoted to the construction of a revision and study timetable, which will use the classrooms that would otherwise have been pencilled in for the junior school assessment moderations - or exams, as we used to call them.
Some of our senior pupils are apparently oblivious to the authority's new strictures on study leave. Indeed, they have already started their own personal routes to exam success by voting with their feet during the final important weeks of their tuition programme.
In evidence, Gail and I were watching the local news this evening, far removed from the worries of our school lives, when what should spoil our viewing but the depressing and all-consuming interest of the production team in a major name football star opening a supermarket. It clocked up four minutes of reporting time, compared with the 20 seconds allocated to a Scottish Executive healthy eating report. Even more depressing to watch was the enormous number of youths in attendance, many of them clearly truanting from school.
"Imagine these young people having nothing better to do with their time," I launched into a tirade, "than standing around listening to the gormless uttterings of I Hang on!" I pulled myself up short at two grinning faces that had thrust themselves into the camera foreground. "That's Stephen Rose and Tony McManaman! No wonder they weren't at the final run-through for their Higher English this afternoon! What on earth are their parents thinking of, letting them ...?"
Gail gently reminded me that the Rose and McManaman families had never been terribly supportive of academic endeavour (which was true), but I found my attention wandering as Rose proceeded to give the reporter his views on the star striker's abilities.
"Pure brilliant, like!" was Rose's assessment. "Pure magic, so he is. Pure dead magic."
I switched off the television in disgust. A week before the most important exams of their life and half my class are dogging off their lessons to see a football player. Even worse, the culmination of their expressive powers of description after 12 years of compulsory education appears to be summed up by the phrases "pure brilliant, like; pure magic" and - most tawdry of all - "pure dead magic". Oh dear.
This afternoon witnessed my unusually sharp departure from school so that Gail and I could attend an evening charity supper-concert organised by her lawyer brother. I wasn't looking forward to the event beforehand - Sidney is an ardent anti-educationist, with both of his children at private schools - and I look back on it with even greater displeasure than I had anticipated.
Don't get me wrong: the concert part was fine, but the supper was tedious in the extreme. As the only teachers present, Gail and I really had very little to talk about but we began to feel a little isolated after 60 minutes of listening to lawyers, doctors and accountants talking interminably about their work. I must say that if there's one thing I can't stand, it's people who only ever talk about their work.
Anyway, the evening took a real turn for the worse when Sidney made an ill-fated attempt to include us in the conversation.
"So, Morris and Gail!" he boomed across the buffet table, "how's the world of academe? If you ever get close to academe, that is!" he added unnecessarily.
"It's fine, Sidney," I assured him. "And we do indeed get close to academe.
Our results at Greenfield Academy are improving year on year."
"Hmm," he mused. "From what kind of base?
"And what's this I hear about chartered teacher programmes? Are you trying to muscle in on the accountants' pitch? Eh? That would be a laugh, wouldn't it Brian!" he slapped an extremely well-heeled acquaintance across the small of his back.
"Actually, it's quite an exciting professional development programme," I heard myself admitting against my will, "although I don't think I'll be taking it up myself. I don't agree that we should have to pay for it ourselves."
"I'm sorry?" Sidney latched on at once. "You don't believe you should have to pay for your own professional development?"
"Well, no. Er, not really," I proposed. "After all, we ..."
"So, hang on," he interrupted. "Who d'you think should pay?"
"Well, the Government, or the Scottish Executive," I ventured.
"Why should they?" he queried. "They never paid for mine. Or Brian's. Or Luke's," he brought a doctor friend into the grouping.
They all lined up against me like the three musketeers. After 10 minutes of frenzied discussion, I found myself wilting under their collective gaze and united contempt as they each revealed the personally remunerated cost of updating their postgraduate skills and knowledge regularly.
"And that's all without the 20 weeks of holiday or whatever it is you teachers get!" Sidney concluded triumphantly.
I admitted despairing defeat with a mute plea to Gail that she take the car keys and drive us home.
Last night's experience, although humiliating, has made me reconsider the option of the chartered teacher programme with some seriousness. If I can remove my loathing of Sidney from the equation, there is a part of me that concedes I should finance my own professional development in order to reap future financial reward, and job satisfaction to boot.
Accordingly, I have submitted a request for an application form to Kevin Muir, who looks set to respond with alacrity.
In part, I have to confess, the decision was also inspired by my desire to remain within a profession that spawns such wonderful stories as Kenny Dunsmore's.
Apparently, our young PE teacher had been trying to improve the passing, handling and throwing skills of our second year basketball team this morning.
"So I'd gone on and on ad nauseam about the way they passed the ball," explained Kenny over the staff table in the dining hall, "and then I just had to take Ryan Hedgcock aside to have a word about his technique.
"I'd explained how he needed to take more care and more thought about what he did with the ball, and think in advance about where he was going to direct his pass," Kenny continued. "But it was really unfortunate that the rest of the boys fell silent just as I was explaining to Ryan that he was, quite simply, 'an inveterate tosser'."
The table erupted in hilarity as we collectively envisaged the letter of complaint that would, we felt sure, be winging our way on Monday morning.
If I sit down to think about it, such are the real joys of teaching.