Making a pig's head of teaching;Comment;Opinion

27th March 1998 at 00:00
One recently retired colleague says that the biggest difference to his life since stopping teaching has been his view of Sundays. Tension headaches, the nervous anticipation of another working week, have disappeared.

It reminded me of my early years of teaching when no sooner had I finished worrying about the week that had gone than concerns about the week to come would arrive - leaving an emotional weather window of about two hours on a Saturday. Sadly, this normally coincided with Clyde going down to yet another defeat.

Even today, the difference made to Sunday by a holiday Monday seems tangible. The day expands, no guilt felt about watching telly, the Sunday papers read on the same day.

One of the last holiday weekends allowed me the chance to rifle old boxes of correspondence, some of which dated back (shamefully) about 26 years, and which had moved in successive flittings without ever being jettisoned.

One particular cache of letters concerned recently graduated friends who were embarking on new jobs or courses: publishing in London, a personnel course with a major company, with the OECD in Paris, Reuters, research, teaching English in Finland for a year - bliss to be alive, but to be young was very heaven.

The air of anticipation, of expectation, came clearly from these letters. The world was waiting to be captured, there was a job to be done! Whether those correspondents, wherever they are, would feel the same way now is a moot point, and casting a hindward eye over the same period of classroom time makes the past seem like another country too. Improvements there have been: the atmosphere between children and teachers seems better (the abolition of the belt no doubt helped that change), and pupils still surprise and delight by their abilities and frankness.

But the giant hogweed of over-assessment, the gradual depletion of resources, the increasing shabbiness of schools, the ageing demographic profile of teachers have all harmed the education service.

At Moray House, my tutor polarised our tutorial group. Half the class thought she was wonderful, half thought her completely unrealistic and overstated. The particular educational flavour was for bringing objects (other than the pupils) into the classroom. Being a gentle subversive even then, when my fourth-year class had a crit imposed on them I decided to teach Ted Hughes's poem "View of a Pig".

Each day I walked home via London Road and by chance - it being the Christmas period - a local butcher had decorated his window with two pigs' heads, each crunching an apple.

One thing led to another, and after the fourth year and I had discussed the poem I asked whether any of them had actu-ally seen a dead pig. The cardboard box was duly produced, the dish towel lifted and . . .

The joke was on me, though, for instead of this being a vicious satirical riposte my tutor praised the idea and gave me my best crit mark to date. As I recall, the box went to biology and RE for a lesson on the Gadarene swine before being returned to the puzzled local butcher.

Nostalgia not being what it used to be, I threw out the old letters, but even after all these years they gave encouragement, their optimism, their sense of purpose. Come to think of it, perhaps my third year would like me to take in a Zimmer frame on Tuesday? Just for group discussion, of course.

Peter Maclaren

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