Richard the lion heart and the head's crusade
Teachers used to love the summer term. As long as our Standard grade and Higher pupils had been adequately prepared, we knew that a slight release of the academic accelerator pedal was possible and we could turn our attention to the broader aspects of the curriculum, such as preparation for the annual school concert.
Alas, no more. Senior pupils depart for examination study-leave much later in the year and their absence no longer marks the commencement of a staff Scrabble championship during the empty periods. Instead, we find ourselves preparing endlessly for a new timetable in June, and also this year arguing interminably over the preparations for next session's move into temporary buildings while the school is transformed by the miracle cure of a public-private partnership.
Currently, passion is being exercised about the planned temporary staffroom. Rumour has it that we will be moved to a mobile block that's a 45-second uncovered dash from the main building and has half the available space of our current arrangements.
George Crumley and Miss Tarbet have been voluble in complaint, but I reckon they should be grateful for small mercies. At least we're getting a staffroom for another year.
Richard Dick is on a crusade to encourage staff applications for chartered teacher status and it appears that our depute head, Richard Broadbent, has been given the task of rounding up a squad of likely lads and lasses, including me.
"It's like this, Morris," he cajoled at morning break. "The head feels that having a large cohort of staff going through the continuing professional development programme for chartered teachers will prove of enormous benefit to the individual teachers concerned. Plus, of course," he added with a wink, "he's as keen as ever to make sure that Greenfield Academy is first on the batting strip when it comes to national initiatives like this."
"Give me the details," I sighed. "Although, I can't promise anything, Richard. I understand it can be pretty time-consuming, this CPD lark, and I really don't think that I" "But just think of the extra money in your pay packet at the end of it all, Morris," he put an over-friendly arm across my shoulder. "Apart from the monthly bonus, you'll also be adding to your final salary to bump up your pension prospects and that's got to be worth something, hasn't it? Plus, I've already got I" he consulted his clipboard secretively, "er, over 10 staff expressing interest. So you'd better make up your mind quickly before all the places go!"
At that precise moment, and for some unknown reason, he began to remind me of a double-glazing salesman. I told him I would think about it and let him know.
"Don't leave it too long," he cautioned, a finger against the side of his nose. "I've got to present the list of recommended staff to Mr Dick by Friday at the latest."
That settled it. He had clearly missed his vocation in sales. But I wasn't falling for his pitch.
Despite the imminent closure of our buildings, the authorities have insisted upon fulfilling the Scottish Executive's commitment to enforce every child's right of access to pure drinking water throughout the school day. Thus, we now have water access points installed in various corridors and a school population fully equipped with centrally-provided water bottles complete with the education authority logo.
Lessons are punctuated by the likes of Stephen Rose and Tony McManaman taking copious swigs of water in a manner that is expressly designed to annoy me.
"Must you make such a meal of it?" I asked Rose after he had slurped and sucked the last dregs from his bottle towards the end of my lesson on folio preparation.
He took on an air of injured martyrdom and protested that he was merely ensuring that his kidneys were "proaperly flusht, like we were telt tae dae".
I shut my eyes and tried not to picture his intestinal workings, but was rudely interrupted by a request from McManaman that he be allowed temporary leave from the classroom to visit the boys' lavatories.
"Tony, you're in third year now," I urged. "Surely it can wait till the end of the lesson?"
He crossed his legs in apparent anguish. "Sur, ah canny wait. It's a' this water wur drinkin'. If ah dinny get tae go soon, ah'm goanny pish masel!"
I blinked, gulped, then blinked again. "Oh, go on then," I finally acquiesced, and he staggered awkwardly from the room.
I wonder if such potential scenes were ever portrayed to the Scottish Executive when the "water for all" initiative was under consideration.
Somehow, I doubt it.
Mrs Harry has brought her own unique style of classroom discipline to the subject of water for all.
"No way, Morris," she explained when I popped into the business studies department and chanced to ask whether she had experienced similar problems to my own with regard to the unlimited provision of water.
"No way whatsoever," she repeated peremptorily, "was I going to have kids wandering in here waving water bottles around with all the computer equipment in this room." She waved an arm across the phalanx of PCs, Macs and laptops that seem to constitute the essential technology of a business studies department these days.
"One drop of water into these keyboards and they're ruined!" she protested emphatically.
It was a fair point but she did rather undermine her case with the large mug of coffee that was perched precariously close to her gesticulating arm, and even closer to her own keyboard.
Mr Broadbent scurried to intercept my departure from the dining hall at lunchtime, just as I was wiping the remnants of caramel flan and custard from my lips.
"Well, Morris?" he urged somewhat over-anxiously. "Have you filled in the chartered teacher application form yet? There aren't many places left," he hesitated unconvincingly.
"Really?" I queried suspiciously. "Because I've been asking around and so far I've not come across anyone on the staff who has signed up for it, Richard."
"Ah, well," he flustered awkwardly. "Maybe you've not been asking the right people, Morris. Or maybe you've been asking some of the undecideds.
"But why be swayed by popular choice anyway?" he shrugged his shoulders.
"If this is something you want to go for, why don't you just go for it anyway?"
"But I don't know if I do want to go for it," I reminded him. "So far as I can make out, I get the chance to spend pound;1,200 to study two units a year out of an eventual 12. And, if I pass, I get pound;1,200 in next year's salary, 12 months after I've shelled out the same amount. Correct?"
"Yes, but I" "Yes. And the same the next year, and the next and the year after that, for six years. Correct?"
"Yes, but I" "And only then, seven years after starting the project, do I stand a chance of moving into profit for all that extra study and application?"
"Well yes, but I" "Now I know that in private industry the employer quite often pays for the extra training involved in enhancing professional development, so you might ask why should we pay for it in the first place?
"But even leaving that aside," I continued, "I think that whether you're paying for the training yourself or you're having it paid for by your employer, most people would expect a return on the investment a little sooner than seven years down the line, don't you? Because by that time, a host of educational changes will have occurred and the scheme will have stopped, started, stopped again and started again. And we might even have a definitive final version of the English Higher!
"But I wouldn't bank on it," I continued, warming positively to my theme.
"And that's why I'm not banking on CPD to become a chartered teacher, Richard. Give it to one of the others on your list. If they exist."
"Oh, they exist, Morris," he bristled, clearly annoyed by my intransigence.
"They certainly exist.
"And don't come running to me when you want to get a place on the programme only to find that others have got there before you."
I considered this to be the last throw of a desperate man and told him so as I peered over the top of his clipboard, only to see a sparse collection of names, mostly with lines crossed through them.
"Add mine to the list of 'Nos', Richard," I looked him squarely in the eye.
"It looks like it's growing bigger by the minute."
He pursed his lips, furrowed his brows and made a negative mark on his clipboard. Nation-wide, I suspect that there will be many equivalents.