The people's favourite;Talkback

30th July 1999 at 01:00
Alan Smith is sick of superteachers

I've just read another one of those puce articles - you know, where some famous over-achiever looks back to his or her schooldays and comes up with detailed memories of some saint. "He was the only one who made historyliteraturemaths come alive. We became good friends and he taught me the bassoon and macrame. I'll never forget him. I owe him. All the others were crap."

Then the wretched saint is dragged out of retirement or from some tea-soaked niche in the staffroom. "He always stood out. He was lively, a little unconventional. I'm delighted at his success." (Meaning: "He was an exhibitionist; a loud-mouthed, violent disruptive; a tattooed long-haired hamster-eater. His success, such as it is, makes me puke with rage and envy.") When we read these homages, how do our own experiences measure up? All comparisons end in humiliation. How can the attrition of an ordinary teaching day, week, life, be endured? Our dullness is made more dull, the ordinary battles most of us manage to win are made to seem shabby victories. But then, surely, I think, there must be one, at least one, flash, posturing celebrity strutting around somewhere who was once taught by me. I'm waiting.

When the Government decided to pick out its own models of good practice, the superteachers who will be 10 per cent up on the rest of us, I had supposed it would judge on their ability to creep around the headteacher; after all, why change a winning formula? But no, I'm sure now that the selection will be by acclaim. The alumni of each and every comprehensive will crowd the playing fields baying gratitude and love. The names of the good teachers that none of them can forget will ring out to the skies. Too late for me though, now I've managed to slip away into early retirement.

Nevertheless, I sometimes wonder about the notion of superness in teachers. Will they have to be super all the time? Will all of their lessons have to be first-class, their discipline always spot-on, marking and admin whizz-bang up to date? Will they always have to be good with parents, social workers, inspectors, education officers; pitching lessons at just the right level, differentiating away like billy-oh? They won't last a month.

The poor devils. What a burden to carry. Who's going to give them a hand when they need it? I can hear it now: "He's the bloody superteacher - let him sort it out." Perhaps their superness will refer to their capacity for duplicity and low cunning. I could just about live with that.

However they emerge, whatever they do, I shall never be, could never have been one of them. My own non-super status was rubbed in good and hard the other day at one of my occasional classes at the local prison. I was sitting in the education section office when in walked Jeff, a nice lad I'd taught in 1980-something. We were surprised to see each other. "Hello, Sir," he said, and we shook hands. I was touched by his obvious pleasure at seeing me.

"Hello Jeff old lad. What are you doing here?" "Seven years," he said.

Alan Smith left teaching two years ago. He has published two novels

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