Magic lamp has inner strengths

16th October 2009 at 01:00

I heard a fascinating true story from one of our headteachers last week. She had been browsing in an old antique shop in East Lothian and came across an ornately decorated lamp, which seemed to be of early Celtic origin.

She was captivated by its appearance and bought it on the spot. On getting home, she set about polishing it, whereupon it burst forth with an immense cloud of smoke and sparks. As the smoke cleared, a huge figure dressed in full Highland regalia appeared in front of her and announced: "Ach lassie, I am the Jimmy of the Lamp and I have the power to grant your wishes to the ancient challenge known as the Dominie's Conundrum."

The Dominie's Conundrum went like this: "I know that, in your school, you have 40 teachers. Ten of them are among the best I've ever seen. They can inspire children; bring light into their lives; get them to achieve beyond what anyone might have imagined; and give them a deep love of learning.

"I also see you have 20 good teachers. These people work hard; care about the children; try and improve what they are doing in the classroom; work well with their colleagues; help pupils to achieve and give them a good platform for future learning.

"But I see you are also burdened with 10 unsatisfactory teachers. They don't care for children; they bully and blame; they are lazy and poorly prepared; pupils go backwards; children turn off learning and take two years to recover from their experience.

"The Dominie's Conundrum gives you two choices. The first is to do nothing. If you take this choice, I will disappear and never return and your life will continue as normal. The second of these choices is very simple and may change your life forever.

"For I have the power to exchange your 10 weak teachers for 10 good but not outstanding teachers. But if you take this option, you must also give up your 10 outstanding teachers - although I will also exchange them for 10 good teachers. The result of accepting this choice is that you will have 40 good teachers to work in your school. So what is to be your decision?"

"So," said the headteacher, "let me see if I've got this right? You're saying that if I want to lose my 10 poor teachers, I must also lose my 10 best teachers? "Yes", said the Jimmy of the Lamp. "But think of the life- changing experiences that outstanding teachers can give individual children," replied the head. "I believe I can improve the 10 weak teachers by using my strong teachers to support them," said the headteacher.

"And has that worked?" asked Jimmy of the Lamp.

The headteacher responded: "Well, no it hasn't - yet - but I'm confident it will, given enough time. Not just that, but if these teachers are as poor as you say they are, I would be looking for support from my local authority to begin disciplinary procedures."

"But just think of all the time and effort that would take," commented Jimmy. "What I'm offering you is an instant solution."

"No one would ever know?" said the headteacher.

"No one," said the Jimmy.

"And no one would be hurt or offended?" she said.

"No one," said the Jimmy.

At that, the head made her decision and Jimmy of the Lamp disappeared in a cloud of smoke - never to be seen again.

The headteacher brought that lamp into the office last week and gave it to me. It's a beautiful object and it sits on my desk - tempting me.

Don Ledingham is director of education and children's services in East Lothian.

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