Return of the Spanish Inquisition...;Comment;Opinion

3rd April 1998 at 01:00
It is only natural that, having just changed schools myself, my thoughts turn to former colleagues from way back. Today I find myself going back to my teacher training college year. Where is Norman - highly conscientious and with a terrific, dry sense of humour? Still in Livingston, I presume. I've got nieces over that way. Maybe in 10 years' time they'll be lucky enough to get him for science.

And what of Dangerous Dave? I first met him when he and a friend of mine were laughing over a psychology textbook in the Moray House library. If I remember correctly, it was a reproduction of an American lonely hearts advert that was getting them going. "Partner wanted, must have full fire-fighting gear."

Not quite a mature student (I've always found that phrase oxymoronic anyway), Dave was a little older than most of the others, having stayed on at university to do a PhD. His humour was more in-your-face than Norman's. During a psychology lecture where a young child was being asked on video to recall memorised objects, Dave would helpfully join in, Generation Game-style, with cries of "Cuddly toy! Fondue set! Brass oil lamp!" When schools of the air were discussed, Dave's voice became a startlingly accurate copy of an Australian accent distorted by static: "Hey Johnny, you give out the pencils today" "Aw, spit, Teach! It's a 2,000-mile walk through the bush."

Dave did not become Dangerous until the day that most of the rest of us were in the physics department workshop completing assignments to build visual aids. The air was alive with the sounds of hissing solder and whining power tools. Dave suddenly burst into the room yelling, "Nooooobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!" Solder starred the walls and misaligned drills and sanders dragged their shocked operators across work surfaces. Dave grinned boyishly, happy to have entertained us with a quote from Monty Python, and somehow he never received the hail of blunt and sharp implements that was his due.

Though perhaps happiest when impersonating (within earshot) one of the maths lecturers who had a fondness for geometric clothing, Dave was keen to teach. Like the majority of us, he didn't find it a skoosh. Pupils were inattentive and chatty. They talked back.

Enthusiasm and eagerness to do well in one's job helped, but they were not enough. The feedback loop that turns competence to confidence and confidence to competence was slow to get turning. "You have so much you want to tell them," said Dave, his face bearing the look of remembered hurt, "so much you yourself find interesting. But sometimes they just don't want to know."

Dave said aloud some of the dafter jokes the rest of us kept in. The flipside of this was an openness and honesty about classroom difficulties. In the darker moments of a teaching career the next best thing to being given a magic formula to get things right is someone sharing their inability to always get it right, too.

Dave passed his teaching course but decided to return to university to do something meteorological. Having subjected his warm personality to the cold climate of an unreceptive class, he moved on. I think, had he stayed, he would have found somewhere where he would have won through. Perhaps he has. Maybe some day he'll turn up. I don't expect it, but then I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition.

Gregor Steele wants a reunion. Who's still out there?

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