Obstinate shade of green

30th January 1998 at 00:00
A friend of mine has just placed an order for a Lotus Esprit. He will take delivery of it in two years' time. Admittedly, he was not a close friend - more of an acquaintance. In fact, I haven't actually spoken to him since we shook hands and wished each other all the best about five years ago. That was a slightly damp June morning outside an unremarkable door to one of the smaller Oxford colleges.

The colour-coded boxes of his life were returning to the vicinity of London, while the cumbersome trunk and withered plant of my life were returning north. He was a mathematician; I was a modern linguist. He was training to become an actuary; I was going to try out a PGCE course.

Five years on, and the Lotus will be the symbol of his success so far. One could venture that this car, once driven by 007, about whom my acquaintance was always avidly enthusiastic, symbolises something else, but that would be less than kind, wouldn't it? Yet as much as I can take a deep breath and maturely dismiss this news as something about somebody I once knew, part of me shimmers with an obstinate shade of green.

It isn't the choice of car that matters. I drive a perfectly decent Renault, because I teach French, as my pupils so often inform me. I also teach German, but the chance of my negotiating the speed bump of the staff car-park in a BMW or a Mercedes is about as likely as my Year 10 standing in silence as soon as I enter the room. What does matter is that my acquaintance, to be brutally honest and notwithstanding his gentle good nature, wouldn't survive an hour in a school. And yet, here he is, in his mid-twenties like myself, able to place an order for a Lotus Esprit.

I stare at the wall ahead, and explain unconvincingly into the phone to the friend who has relayed this gem of information to me that my compensation as a teacher is the moral reward, not the financial. If I had been looking to make money, I wouldn't have become a teacher in the first place, would I?

This is my fourth year of teaching. I have lost count of the occasions when that moral reward seemed so far away that a smile required a genuine effort of will on my part. Of course, there are good classes and there are classes that require a much more structured lesson plan. However, as I recall a correspondent pointing out, after seeing one of the recent cinema recruitment adverts, is my prerequisite optimism based on the hope that someday, someone will say "thank you" for helping them gain the qualifications needed for the job they now have, and the Lotus Esprit they now drive?

The Government wants to recruit the best into teaching. And so it should. But in our age of materialism and hard-edged competitiveness, where millions of pounds are gambled for twice weekly, I cannot help but feel that the principles of social duty and moral reward sometimes seem to stumble in the state-owned gutter.

Craig Jenkinson

Craig Jenkinson teaches in the Lytham St Anne's area

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