May you stay forever young

17th November 2000 at 00:00
WHEN a friend heard a pupil talking about cars, "0-60 in 15 seconds", he later remarked that it seemed like the perfect description of his life in teaching.

The paradox is that pupils taught 30 years ago seem clearer in the memory than recent ones - certainly their names do - but perhaps it is the freshness of youth (theirs and mine) that marks them indelibly in the mind.

At our school's recent multicultural Interfest night, a teacher who was parading in full Highland dress, prior to his solo stage spot, was greeted by one of his fourth years: "My, you do scrub up well."

It reminded me of years ago when a long-suffering student of one of my classroom stories wearily listened to the punch-line and muttered: "Taxi for aclaren."

Once, a van driven by a former pupil stopped and offered me a lift. The boy had left with few qualifications but now was running a plumber's business.

He enquired, "Still teaching away, big man?", as though his hopes that I might have found a proper job in the interim were but lightly held.

No chance of getting uppity with such youthful directness all round.

I've never really taught anyone famous, though last month I saw the release (or escape) of a film set in Ireland directedby a former CSYS student. The Observer film critic called it toe-curlingly awful, so my claim to have inspired her entry into thespian studies and cinema stardom will have to remain muted.

Her dissertation had been on the Slab Boys Trilogy and The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil. No chance of a guest appearance on This Is Your Life via that route.

My wife's memory of past pupils is generally clearer than mine, but even she was struggling one Hogmanay when a couple greeted us in central Glasgow. The boy asserted, "You were my teacher", and after the usual fencing about the year and subject and who his classmates were, my wife was forced into admitting she didn't clearly remember him.

"Oh, that's all right, it was a please-take one day when the teacher was absent."

What an impact that lesson must have made.

For the most part, it's sowing seeds in the dark. (My lift-offering plumber puzzled me with "Mind yon play about the Jewboy" - before I remembered struggling through The Merchant of Venice.) The willingness to engage with the class, the eccentricity of personality, the worse the jokes - all these leave fragments in the memory long after folio assessment or irregular verbs are forgotten.

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