Let the clutch out, Donald;Opinion

14th May 1999 at 01:00
PHIL HARRASS refers to him (or someone like him) as the Lemonsucker, but Donald Dewar remains someone I admire and respect. It was therefore disappointing to hear him add, at the end of a statement that was largely positive and upbeat about teachers and teaching, that the profession must modernise.

The word "modern" has positive connotations even for an old car buff like myself. I love my Herald to bits. I am wowed by its charm and character. Give me a quiet A road, a 1971 Triumph, a sunny day and a retro pop com-pilation and I am at ease with the world. But give me the dog-eat-dog lane-hopping hell of the M8 on a wet morning and I'd rather be in something modern.

I have modernised my Herald by fitting radial tyres. Going into an uncontrollable tail slide is not a part of the sixties and seventies motoring experience in which I wish to indulge.

Yes, modern, like motherhood, is one of these words you can't argue with. What I don't understand is why a modern parliament is one with shorter, more family friendly hours, while a modern teaching profession would have longer, less family friendly hours.

Perhaps the modern teaching hours would be no less family friendly than most other people's working hours, but modern is still the wrong word.

"Teachers need six weeks' holiday - two to wind down, two to have as a holiday, and two to wind back up again." This, or something very like it, was a statement from a teacher quoted in The TES Scotland. While there may be some truth in it, it does us no good at all to say things like this too loudly. There are plenty of others who could make the same claim.

Instead, let's be positive. Let's look at the good things we do. In the space of a few years we have radically overhauled every course we teach. Modernisation or what? We have tried modern teaching methods, have found certain aspects wanting but have retained those that are good.

Many teachers, through self-help and mutual support, have reached a degree of competence in modern technological hardware that would have cost thousands in training from a private company to achieve.

Pupils are no longer thrashed into behaving well. We have homework clubs, supported study, returning adults, summer schools . . . Seriously, Mr Dewar, (and this should be our battle cry) what more do you want from a modern teaching profession?

Gregor Steele has a horrible suspicion that what they really want is a 1999 Range Rover for the price of a 1971 Triumph Herald.

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