Motivational nicknames leave you snookered

3rd July 2009 at 01:00

A supply teacher friend rang me a few weeks ago during the final of the World Snooker Championship.

"I'm just watching John 'The Wizard of Wishaw' Higgins, attempt to come off three cushions and lay the white tight against the yellow," I said.

Clearly, she was oblivious to the fact it was a key moment in a protracted battle for strategic dominance.

"I've been offered a job covering a long-term mental breakdown at Tranquil Meadows Centre for Excellence in Learning," she said. "Do you know what it's like?"

"Before they changed its name from Hell on Earth Primary, it used to be... Hell on Earth," I told her. I could hear her crest falling like a fouled white into the corner pocket, so I added: "But hey, it's a brand new state-of-the-art building, with a brand new state-of-the-art name. It could be like... err... a tranquil meadow by now."

"Do you really think so? Maybe I'll give it a go," she said.

"Enjoy," I said and went back to watching snooker. That's when it struck me - possibly with a touch of side. It was so obvious, I wondered why I hadn't thought of it before.

These snooker players may be giants of the screw shot and Casanovas of the subtle kiss but, as sportsmen go, they're no David Beckhams.

Even taking into consideration a lack of vitamin B from long hours labouring under subdued lighting, there is still something physically average about them. So how do they manage to over-achieve so spectacularly? And perhaps more importantly, are there lessons to be learnt for schools?

In the hushed theatre of my subconscious, a shadowy figure got up and chalked his cue. "The pathway to school improvement," he whispered, "is by way of the long red of high expectations, which is but a thin cut along the baulk cushion from the stunned pink of raised self-esteem."

Let it be recorded here that Shaun "The Whiston Warrior" Murphy was in the process of having his balls replaced when I discovered the Holy Grail of raising standards.

What does Jimmy "The Whirlwind" White have that Britney Battersby doesn't? What gives "Rocket" Ronnie O'Sullivan the edge over Keanu Cutts? What made the late, great Alex "Hurricane" Higgins - that gaunt, twitching, chain-smoking, vodka- swilling hellraiser - a colossus of the green baize? The answer is most definitely a motivational nickname.

And if schools can be transformed by nothing more than a makeover and a new name, why not the children themselves?

A few weeks later, I'm already practising my rallying speech for September. "You may have the weak and feeble body of a girl, 'Lightning' Leanne, but you have an unrivalled ability to solve three-step number problems... We will write powerful verbs on the whiteboard, 'Tornado' Tomlinson. We will copy them into our book. We will regurgitate them in our persuasive writing... I have a dream, Terri 'The Tsunami' Simpson..."

The phone rings. It's my supply teacher friend. "How's Tranquil Meadows?" I ask.

"Hell on Earth," she replies.

Steve Eddison, Key stage 2 teacher, Sheffield.

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