Merde

25th May 2012 at 01:00

In this month's instalment of Education News: Bear Shits in Wood edition, comes the NASUWT's revelation that teachers feel more stressed and less appreciated than ever before.

I'm not shocked. A short while ago, I got together with a group of my fellow soon-to-be graduates and the drunken conversation turned to our schooldays. What followed was a veritable outpouring of guilt; a catalogue of schoolboy wheezes and japes from intentionally farting next to teachers, to running pools on their sexual preferences and cup sizes.

For my part, one episode stuck out above all others: a particularly nasty encounter with my Year 9 French teacher, Madame B. It's not something I'm proud of. Until then, I had never been awful at school. More cocky than callous, I was arrogant as only a 14-year-old can be. But one day I went too far. It was a nitpicking lesson where everything I did seemed to earn her disapproval, from my pronunciation to my posture. Finally, I decided I had had enough. Bursting with righteous indignation, I looked her in the eye and told her exactly what I thought of her: "You teach us by rote - how are we supposed to understand the language?" I cried. "This isn't the fucking 19th century." Cue applause from my peers. Cue my horrible realisation that I had gone too far.

My punishment was harsh. Even today I can still remember the number of ceiling tiles in the drab classroom where I spent the next two weeks, the interviews with senior staff, the report cards, the letters home and my mother's disappointment. Yet even more acute, more piercing, is the memory of facing up and saying sorry.

There is a scene in Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Giles, Buffy's watcher (a vampire slayer instructor), tells her he is leaving. She is terrified. Not because she is not strong enough to cope alone (she is) or even because she will miss him (although she will). But rather because it means the end of their master-student association: the implication that they are talking to each other not as teacher and pupil but as equals, as adults.

I know how Buffy felt. In challenging my teacher's authority so bluntly, humiliating her so openly, I had forfeited the right to be treated as her student. With that relationship in tatters, she addressed me not as a pupil, but as a grown-up. Trembling, I listened to her outline exactly why what I had done was wrong; how it had made her feel; the trust that I had betrayed; the damage I had done. Nothing could have been more mortifying for a 14-year-old boy.

After that, I turned my act around. But every time I saw that teacher, I would skulk away, squirming at the memory of that conversation. The lesson? As students, we like to play with boundaries and stretch limits, but we generally want to leave the hierarchy intact. We play, we cajole, we annoy, but there is a certain comfort in knowing that the teacher is the boss.

Wherever she is, I hope Madame B doesn't feel unappreciated. You see, although we might hide your board marker, spread rumours about your personal life and fart in your vicinity, we like the fact that you are in control. And if we add to your stress levels then it's usually down to our vivacity not our vindictiveness.

So I'm sorry, Madame. And I'm sorry, teachers. Sometimes, it may not seem like it, but deep down we are on your side. After all, it's only when you are holding the reins that we can truly run free.

Son of Thrope is a beer-swilling university student, and actual son of Ms Anne Thrope, a secondary school teacher. Ms Thrope is marking.

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