Non encounters of the worst kind

17th July 1998 at 01:00
I almost got to shake hands with Clare Short a few weeks ago when she visited my school but unfortunately I had a first-year class to teach. Having played a major part in preparing the upper school for her talk, I was a tad disappointed. Others with, shall we say, less teaching commitment managed to glad-hand her and be photographed with the Secretary of Good Intentions.

Somewhat coincidentally a representative of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund was present to receive a cheque from the school for the magnificent sum of Pounds 4,000. My Higher class stated afterwards that Ms Short tended to repeat herself but that, on the whole, they had enjoyed the experience. The suited New Labour clones who surrounded her got what they wanted: lots of local press attention and soundbites on Scot FM. A few unlucky pupils got something they didn't want - to be photographed standing next to a fortysomething female fashion disaster who meant nothing to them.

As a mere classroom teacher I don't get to meet the "luvvies". A high-profile visitor I didn't meet recently was Sam Galbraith, Scottish Office Minister and the inspiration for Munch's "Scream". He announced that the school is to receive lottery finance to build a sports complex, very welcome news indeed. He didn't address staff or speak to pupils but thankfully the BBC and local press were on hand to make his visit worth while.

Last year I didn't meet Tommy Burns who visited the school to speak to the sixth-formers on the pressures of being a high-profile Catholic. Given his recent drink driving conviction the pressures must have been greater than I had imaged. (Having been sacked and now eking out an existence as manager of mighty Reading, I am sure this religious burden has been somewhat lifted.) He stated he was fully behind Celtic Football Club's Bhoys Against Bigotry campaign though I felt visiting a Catholic school was hardly ground-breaking stuff. I am eagerly awaiting the visit of the first Rangers player.

A few months ago I didn't meet the leader of Glasgow Council, Frank McAveety, when he visited the school to be photographed in the state of the art IT wing. I was busy teaching in a room with broken floor tiles which has not been painted for at least seven years.

Over the years I have organised low-profile visits by representatives of various groups. Some have been successful, others disastrous. On one occasion I had to travel across the city to pick up an Israeli student. His speech made Binyamin Netanyahu look like an apologist for the PLO. And a representative from Alcoholics Anonymous managed to make my fourth-year group contemplate mass suicide, such was the sadness of the tale he related.

Guest speakers are often guilty of inappropriate language for young pupils. Evelyn Dymock of Scottish Breast Cancer is innocent of this charge. I invited her to speak to a module class about the difficulties of pressure group activities. She spoke movingly of crests and troughs in her campaign to force the Government to address the appalling number of women who die from this illness. When she finished, the class burst into spontaneous applause. I handed over a cheque for the munificent sum of Pounds 10 given to me by the school.

Outside speakers are desirable but I am increasingly uneasy about the purpose of inviting "celebrity" guests. All too often the pupils are bit players in political theatre, right up there with kissing babies and planting trees. The photo opportunity is the keynote of the visit, not finding out the views of the next generation. "Celebs" might rightly argue that they are the ones being exploited by careerist teachers who use bigwigs to bolster promotion prospects.

People I am unlikely to meet next session are Brian Wilson, Cardinal Thomas Winning and Donald Dewar. Oh Lord, why is my life so empty and meaningless?

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