Lambs to the slaughter
Our first day back witnessed a startling influx of probationer teachers, all of them eager for the fray. I allowed myself a small reflective smile as I listened to their enthusiastic plans for innovative lessons and endless extra- curricular activities, as well as heaven help them a marked fervour in anticipation of their first parents' evening.
"They'll soon learn," I muttered to David McManus of biology. He nodded quietly before I continued with a puzzled air: "Most of this lot seem new, David. What happened to the ones we had last year, and what about Peter Taylor who joined us the year before that?"
"Well, most of the ones who were here last year had to be cleared out for this lot's arrival," he explained, "so that we qualified for extra NQT payments. And Peter had to go before he'd accumulated two years' continuous service in case the council had to give him a permanent job."
"But Peter was a wonderful teacher," I recalled indignantly. "Plus all his extra-curricular stuff. He's the type of teacher we'd want to keep, isn't he?"
"Not if you're in charge of the authority's purse strings," McManus shrugged.
"So will he have to get by on supply work again?"
"If he can," he snorted. "But that's not easy, I gather, because schools prefer experienced teachers for supply so he has to battle against the ranks of former principal teachers and SMT members who've taken early retirement and then waltzed straight back into their old schools on supply.
"I tell you, Morris: I feel sorry for this lot," he nodded in the direction of our new colleagues. "Talk about the bloody infantry."
"Yes," I agreed, pondering another First World War analogy: it was something to do with lions and donkeys, as I recall...
The new term looks as if it will offer a wide variety of linguistic challenges. Our French assistante, Mademoiselle Bertradeau, has a grasp of vernacular English that seems uncertain: she explained to Mr McManus at lunch that she "loved long lays on a Sunday", which had him spluttering in his tea.
However, such difficulties pale into insignificance when compared with the communicative problems experienced by our intake of pupils with Eastern European origins, most notably Poland.
I, too, had problems calling my first register of the day, when names such as Franciszek and Katarzyna didn't trip off the tongue, but they weren't having it easy themselves, as became apparent when I gave 1N books and told them to get on with reading. Two of them started trying to read from the back, while three others gazed helplessly at the pages until one of them started to sob quietly.
For all that I might have regarded our new entrants with a jaundiced eye on Monday, I have to admit that such youthful freshness and enthusiasm can be heartening. And no one seems fresher and more enthusiastic than Caitlin Charles, our newest and, I might say, highly attractive member of the English department. At the departmental meeting, she asked who ran the debating society.
Simon Young coughed, looked at the floor, then explained: "We haven't had one since the teachers' action of 1986. And I don't think we'd get much uptake from the pupils we've got these days... "
"Don't you?" she queried, eyes wide. "Have you asked them if they'd be interested?"
There was a silence, which she eventually broke: "Well, would you mind if I started one up?"
"Um. Feel free," he muttered.
It was hardly a ringing endorsement, but I admired the girl's pluck and drive.
I think Patricia Gibbon is feeling the strain after three years at the helm. She seems little interested in the pressing needs of our Polish children, whose lack of additional support I challenged.
"Oh, Morris, I know they're having some initial difficulties, but it's really the ASN department's job to work in conjunction with everyone else, and... "
"Yes, but Mrs Jackson tells me she hasn't been notified of their existence, she has no record of needs for them, and she... "
"Morris," she screeched. "Am I supposed to be responsible for everything that goes on in school?"
I gulped, speechless. Naively enough, I had always thought that her job title suggested exactly that.
It's going to be a difficult year. The first-year cohort is unbelievably badly behaved, and there is a rumour going round the staffroom that Rock Steady have been given a contract to have personnel on standby at the front of every class.
In addition, "Mainstream" Michael Kerr, our socially-included fifth-year pupil with the behavioural characteristics of a Visigoth, has returned to school with an electronic tag on his ankle.
I discovered this during our first Intermediate 2 English class, as I entered to witness his cronies around him. An enquiry revealed that the court order that led to such an outcome was a result of Kerr being convicted on counts for breach of the peace a mass brawl that he appeared to have arranged by text with opposing gang members in Rockston High Street.
Alas, the social shame that such punishment should accrue seems lost on Kerr and his ilk, who view the tag as heroic.
"That's ace, Mikey," exclaimed Jason Bonetti. "Wish ah could've had wan."
"Aye, it's quite sexy," agreed Melissa Chalmers.
I wonder if Kerr would be interested in joining Ms Charles' debating club? I sense a hot topic ahead on crime and punishment.