Pocahontas sails in with an eager beaver
I am not looking forward to the coming academic year. For the first time in many years, I have got two first year classes. This is largely because Simon Young, my faculty head (and principal teacher of English), appears to have so many management responsibilities that he has very little time to teach.
"Now that modern languages has been added to my remit as well, Morris, there's just no room in my timetable for taking as many English classes as I'd like. And you're always so good with the younger ones," he clapped an over-affectionate arm around my shoulder as I glanced at the sheaf of timetables clutched in his hand.
Strangely enough, all of his (sparsely scattered) classes involve either highly motivated Higher pupils or a couple of sessions with our eight candidates for Advanced Higher. The age-old educational law of principal's privilege clearly still holds sway.
Of course, one of the delights of meeting so many first years is the chance to discover afresh the outer boundaries of parental taste in naming their offspring. Every year brings forth a selection of unfortunate 12-year-olds saddled with the moniker of an outdated media celebrity - Kylie being one of the longest surviving - or worse. For some reason, this year has proved exceptional in its profusion of Kimberleys, and the most outspoken of them corrected me forcefully upon our first meeting this afternoon.
"Kimberley McKinley?" I called, pen hovering over my register.
A gum-chewing, slightly built child with mousy hair stopped masticating long enough to fix me in the eye. "It's Kimberley Chartreuse," she slurred loudly.
"Oh. Sorry," I apologised. "I thought your surname was McKinley."
"Aye. So it is. But ma full name's Kimberley Chartreuse McKinley. Awright?"
I took a deep breath, apologised again and corrected my register before moving on to the next child.
"Pocahontas McLeod? Are you here?"
Unbelievably enough, she was.
As well as two fairly appalling first year classes, I am lumbered with some of the third year's finest pupils, including "Mainstream" Michael Kerr, our socially included educational iconoclast, and Peter Westhouse.
"Ah, Peter," I greeted him this morning. "Glad you made it into school for the beginning of term.
"I was just speaking to your mother in Asda last week."
His hooded eyes lifted long enough for me to detect a faint glimmer of understanding. He grimaced. "So it wiz yoo that shoapped me," he accused.
"Shopped you?" I raised my eyebrows. "Your mother was simply explaining that she was looking forward to Wednesday when her parental responsibilities might be somewhat lessened upon your return to school.
"And I have to say she looked considerably relieved and immeasurably happier when I advised her that we started on Monday."
"Aye well," he grunted. "A mustuv goat the dates wrang masel'."
"Indeed," I smiled wanly before taking a look around his ill-assorted cronies, such as Melissa Chalmers and Ryan Hedgcock, who are all in the vanguard of our attempts to grab some educational publicity by Pat Gibbon's insistence that we enter them for Standard grades at the end of S3. To date, their folio submissions are a rag-bag of semi-literate outpourings, but I should be able to lick these internally-aided offerings into shape by next May. I'm not so sure how they're going to fare in their external exams though ...
The French staff have been joined by an extremely enthusiastic young probationer who looks likely to make a mark. Already, Peter Taylor has volunteered to run an after-school judo class as well as the long-defunct Scripture Union, whose praise books - if they are still around - last saw the light of day some time before the industrial action of the 1980s.
Unfortunately, his own willingness remains unreciprocated by his departmental colleagues with regard to the professional support he is entitled to receive. And Simon is furious.
"That bloody woman!" he swore at lunchtime, in a reference to the former principal teacher of modern languages, Pamela Blane. "I asked her to arrange a mentoring programme for Pete and she tells me it's not her job any more!"
"But, er, surely it's not?" I supported her claim. "It's yours, isn't it, as head of faculty?"
"Well, technically, it's my responsibility, but part of my job is delegation and what do I know about helping him with language teaching strategies? I mean, all I asked Pam to do was sit in on a couple of lessons and give him some pointers."
"I thought you said you'd asked her to arrange a mentoring programme?"
"Well, yes, but what I meant was I Oh, bugger it!" he threw a hand in the air. "All I was looking for was a bit of give-and-take for a while."
Sadly, I suspect there is going to be a lot of taking and not very much giving as the implications of our new management structures become more firmly bedded in.
Our policy of entering the third years for Standard grades almost experienced a complete about-turn today, if reports from the faculty heads'
meeting are to be believed. Our headteacher had outlined her dismay at reports from pilot schools where the younger candidates have lowered the schools' overall pass rates. Mrs Gibbon suggested that perhaps this year's third years weren't best fitted for the pressure of early examinations, so she was "considering extending their study deadline by a year".
"It went on and on," reported Simon, "but I eventually won her over to seeing it through by letting her imagine what the press would do to us if they heard we had flaked out. Not to mention the chances of pupils dying from terminal boredom as they went through three years of redrafting the same essays for their English folios instead of two."
It was a valid point. Anyway, Mrs Gibbon has an alternative plan up her sleeve, which is to redirect some of our least likely Standard grade candidates towards her new enthusiasm: college-school liaison, with an emphasis on vocational qualifications. First up for this initiative is something called an agricultural taster course; and first up for selection are likely to be the erstwhile S3 pupils in my class.
"Great!" I received the news enthusiastically. "Does that mean I get extra non-contact time?"
Simon looked scornfully down his nose. "Who d'you think's taking them to the farm, Sunshine?"
I should have guessed. Five years of training and 21 years of teaching experience, all to lead expeditions to the farm. It is just part of life's rich pattern in the teaching profession of the new millennium.
Fraser Boyle returned to school today after his first absence of the new session. Mr Boyle's appearances in the history department have taken on an almost mythical quality; indeed, there are some members of staff who deny his very existence.
His stomach ailments are legend and lengthy periods of depression figure largely in medical certification of his frequent inability to work. Yet this time, his ailment seemed genuine enough as he hirpled into school on two crutches, the apparent result of a long-running hip injury he had aggravated playing five-a-side football at the end of the holidays.
I tried to extend the hand of sympathy and it was clutched with eager - and unaccustomed - relief. "Thanks, Morris. It's a real bugger this, I can tell you. Absolute agony, and it's been going like this on and off for over four years now."
"Good grief! Can't they do anything for it?"
"Oh, I've been on a waiting list for two years, but every time I get near the top, something happens."
"Well, the last time was at the beginning of July, when they gave me a short-notice appointment for an operation two days after we broke up."
"What happened? Did they have to cancel it?"
"No, no. I refused the appointment. It would've meant missing two weeks of my summer holidays. I asked them if they couldn't move it back to the end of August, but they said they couldn't.
"Bloody NHS. You pay into it for years and then, when you really need it, they can't service your requirements properly."
My sympathy evaporated fairly swiftly. I muttered some non-committal words and went to meet my other S1 class for the first time.
They are another motley crew, frankly, and I can't help but wonder what the primary schools are doing - or not doing - in training appropriate classroom behaviour. Most seem to think they can wander freely about the room whenever the fancy takes them. I soon put a stop to that.
At least 1N's register has fewer unusual appellations than 1C's, although I admit being intrigued by one child's name of Destiny.
"That's an unusual name," I smiled when she acknowledged her presence.
"Where is it from?"
"Ma perrents went thur honeymoon oan a cruise, sur. Destiny wis the name o'
I bit my lip. I suppose it's better than it could have been ...