Maistly the pies have it today

13th December 2002 at 00:00
I have my line manager to thank for the following story. An old Scots baker is heading to market with a tray of pies. Unfortunately, he trips up and drops his produce in a pile of manure. He picks them up again and, on reaching the market, displays the goods in three separate piles headed:

"Pies, maistly pies, maistly shite."

Apparently, the story was adapted by one of my principal teacher's friends in reviewing an anthology of Scots poetry. She described the collection as "poems, maistly poems and maistly..." Well, you get the idea. Unfortunately, an over-perjink editor omitted this introduction from the published article.

A similar trio of descriptive phrases, though in the opposite order, could be applied to my three teaching practices. They took place the year after the belt was banned. The first was in something of a backwater. Not quite banjo country, but close. I was a skinny kid with comedy-vicar teeth and an unconvincing moustache.

Students were slightly less common there than crop circles and I had some hassle with one class. This led one head of department to rate aspects of my performance as "unsatisfactory". Strangely, another was more encouraging, although he was a disciplinarian of the old school. I was naively impressed by his ability to make tough-looking characters say "yes, sir, no, sir, three bags full, sir," solely by minor movements of his eyebrows.

Thus, on my next placement, I affected a John Wayne walk and a po-faced demeanour. I wanted to be Clint Eastwood in a sports jacket, The Man With No Nickname. These kids wouldn't see the teeth because I did not intend to smile. Tumbleweed blew across my path when I walked to work and somewhere, a lone bell tolled.

The Man With No Nickname might well have stayed that way when the wind changed if his tutor had not carefully selected the school. It was in what would become Trainspotting territory but the whole ethos was of non-confrontation (but not namby-pamby "whit can ye dae?" wetness). My hope, founded on the examples of some but not all of my own teachers, that you didn't have to be Dirty Harry to succeed, was restored.

Almost two decades on and the notion of teaching through fear seems bizarre. I doubt if I could manage it now any better than I could have then, anyway.

The moustache has gone, the teeth are still there but I'm a bit less skinny. Must be all the pies.

Gregor Steele's spellchecker had a ball with some of the words in this article.

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