Proof of a world gone topsy-turvy

5th December 1997 at 00:00
I read somewhere that every few million years the magnetic poles swap round - north becomes south, south becomes north. Two questions sprang to mind: (1) would fridge magnets drop off? (2) has the swap occurred but, for reasons probably related to potential world panic and the value of the stock market, scientists have conspired not to tell us?

There are certainly signs of a polar swap. Think about it. Tony Blair is implementing university tuition fees, Michael Portillo wants Conservatives to care. I rest my case.

Then there are inspections. Nowadays they're occasions of cataclysmic doom and gloom. Already knackered school buildings have been known to collapse under the sheer weight of paperwork required before the inspector bods even set foot in the place. So have already knackered teachers. But I can remember when inspections were, if not exactly jolly, at least quite laid-back events.

Let me try to convince you. My college was inspected once whenI was a teacher-sprog, young enough to get away with wearing dungarees and green nail polish and to allow, occasionally, a frog glove puppet to take my lessons for me.

My head of department, an amiable, unstressed sort of man , whispered something to me on the morning of the inspection, but I don't particularly remember what. I certainly don't remember doing any special preparation beforehand. This was possibly because we had the strange idea in those days that what we did every day was good enough and Ought To Do. We had confidence in our professionalism.

Just after lunch I was going to my class when I spotted, slightly ahead of me, two of my students. We engaged in a bit of banter which went something like: "You're late!" "Well, you're behind us so you must be later!" See, we used to teach them to think logically in those days. Well, a teacher of spirit (take my word for it, they did exist) couldn't resist such a challenge, so with a "not if I get there before you, I'm not!" I indulged in a blatant bit of cutting-across-the-grass sort of leadership and screeched into the room ahead of them.

The rest of the class were there already, unnaturally quiet. And so was a man with a clipboard.

To give myself a second to think, I turned to a girl who was back in class after a long absence and effusively expressed my pleasure at her return. She looked a bit surprised but otherwise took it well.

The two lads then hurtled in and I sternly remarked "You're late!", making John Cleese type gestures with my eyes to the back of the room. To their eternal credit they apologised instantly and humbly.

I then opened my case and announced: "Today we're going to do a lesson on the ear..."

"But Miss, we've already..."

"Yes, I know, shut up." (Well, I figured at least they'd stand a chance of knowing some of the answers.) And off we went, with my team co-operating marvellously and thoroughly entering into the spirit of the thing.

I got a special mention when the report came out - my head of department read it out to us proudly - for having "a good relationship with my class, and showing concern for the welfare of a student who had been absent".

Now that, to me, indicates two things - that as well as his obvious intelligence and perspicacity, the man with the clipboard had had a sense of humour.

And that's the sort of thing that used to happen before the poles changed. Honestly.

Helen Flatley is a teacher and freelance writer in the north-west.

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