Role models and new arrivals
For once, it was a relief to get back to school this morning, as Gail's pregnancy enters - I hope - its final week. Alas, I have grown weary of her ceaseless requests for ice cubes to crunch: the frequent trips to the freezer, followed by the glacial grinding of her teeth that sets my nerves on edge, have all conspired to make me long for the arrival of our second child with a passion that is only partly attributable to the desire for welcoming a new Simpson to this world.
The school reaffirmed that requests for leave of absence to attend the birth will be met sympathetically, "assuming that the 'please take' list can handle it," chortled Kevin Muir, in what I took to be a lighthearted remark.
Other staff were not so sure and suggested that Gail might be better to delay matters so that my paternity leave would coincide with the SQA examinations period and their teaching timetables might not be too disadvantaged. And, of course, "Coarse" Davie McManus had his own inimitable comment to make.
"So then, Morris," our senior biology teacher enquired, "if the baby disnae come by Friday, ur they gaun' tae seduce her next week?"
I sighed in response to his very old joke and assured him I would be leaving matters medical in the hands of the doctors.
Today saw the arrival of our newest depute headteacher, a replacement for Jim Henderson, who has at last limped into an overdue retirement.
Georgina Burgess is a former principal teacher of home economics. She brings the female complement in our senior management team to five, out of seven. There are some on the staff who believe that our gender balance has swung too far, as we were discussing this afternoon in our new staffroom, reallocated from the history department as that subject withers on the vine ...
"My God," muttered Simon Young, one of the few PTs with a lengthy memory of our school's history. "Can you imagine what John Ross would have said? Or Mr Tod? Or even Richard Dick?" he recalled the holders of our illustrious rectorial post long before the term "rector" was consigned to the educational dustbin of history. "Old John Ross must be spinning in his grave to think of his school with a woman headteacher."
"Not to mention a nearly all-female senior management team," concurred Davie McManus, "and most of them biologically so, 'cos I'm still not sure about that old woman, Richard Broadbent. Kevin Muir's the only one with any balls as far as I can see."
Simon laughed. "Talk about a monstrous regiment!"
"Dead right," agreed McManus. "But the thing that worries me is that our boys don't have enough effective male role models - like me - in positions of authority, and if these women could only ..."
I almost choked, to be honest, and it was just as well that Mrs Burgess walked into the room at that point. To think of McManus as an effective role model for any pupil, male or female, was stretching my professional credulity just a little too far.
Sandra Denver, our principal teacher of history in another era, has organised an after-school stress-busting class. It doesn't seem any time at all since her ill-fated Brainscape classes (designed to exploit lateral modes of thinking in our student populace) fell by the wayside, but she is nothing less than persistent in her attempts to offer new study-skill approaches. After all, a large slice of the school's Excellence funding is dependent upon her doing so.
Her latest initiative involves relaxation classes to "instil inner calm before examinations", head massages intended to "relieve all those important pressure points" and what she has called a "lobal warming"
activity, designed to "get the brain heated up and ready for quick-fire action during exams".
This year, of course, is the first time that our third years will be sitting Standard grades, and several have been attending the stress-busting sessions.
Personally, I feel that the prospect of pupils such as Melissa Chalmers attempting any form of "academic relaxation" seems to possess an inherent self-contradiction. But not if you listen to Melissa, who seemed singularly distracted this afternoon.
"Melissa," I called her wandering attention back to the whiteboard. "What on earth's the matter with you? I don't think you've listened to a word ..."
"Aw, surr," she interrupted, "it's jist that ah've no done aw ma preparation exercises fur Miss Denver's stress-bustin' class this afternoon. An' she'll be furious, so she wull. Ah'm stressed oot ma boax just thinkin' aboot it, sur."
I wonder whether our educational psychologist has been consulted about the efficacy of Miss Denver's programme?
Our headteacher has enlisted my help in a discipline crackdown at the local supermarket. Apparently, weekday shoppers - and the supermarket - have been alarmed at the increasing number of our pupils abandoning the healthy eating choices at the school canteen in favour of a trip to our local emporium.
"I'd like a report on what's going on," Patricia Gibbon explained to me, "and I was just thinking that, now you're well into the second module of the chartered teacher programme, it would be a good idea to start thinking of the extra responsibilities you might take on when you've finished it."
Well, I almost refused point-blank, as I explained to Mrs Gibbon that the very last thing the chartered teacher programme was about was a means of allocating extra responsibilities and duties to those teachers who had chosen to demonstrate their professional competence for the business of actual teaching.
She raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips. "Oh yes? Morris, I'm asking you a question. Will you go and check it out at lunchtime or not?"
I concurred, but reiterated the fact that my agreement was in support of the school reputation rather than as any adjunct to my CT experience.
By 2pm, I wished that I hadn't caved in so easily. Positioning myself near the supermarket doors at the start of the lunch-hour, I simply couldn't believe the avalanche of children that descended upon the store. It was like a film scene from Gladiator (or, for those of an older generation, Zulu), as rank upon rank of serried waves rushed towards the doors, arms flailing and laying waste the ill-assorted groups of shoppers, young mothers, children and pensioners unfortunate enough to be in their way.
A sudden halt was called by two burly security guards, who ordered a queue to be formed and then allowed entry to limited numbers at any one time in an authoritarian manner that would have met fulsome resistance in the school dining hall but which had some effect here.
Relative calm was restored, but the school's reputation must have suffered terribly as this lengthy trail of screeching adolescents pushed, shoved, fought with each other and dropped quantities of litter.
And things weren't much better inside the shop, as I witnessed two of our pupils visiting the bakery, placing two packets of doughnuts into their basket and then eating the contents of one packet and disposing of the wrapping before they reached the checkout.
I pondered on reporting them to the shop, but didn't relish the parental consequences if I did, so resolved instead to make a detailed summary of these awful circumstances and leave the problem with Mrs Gibbon to pass on to one of the senior management team. After all, it's what they're paid for.
I am a father for the second time! Punctual as ever, Gail delivered our son almost exactly on schedule. So I spent a tiring, and somewhat messy, afternoon released from the responsibilities of my third year Standard grade class, and encouraging Gail in her efforts instead.
She was a more willing listener than "Mainstream" Michael Kerr, it has to be admitted, and her language was less offensive for the most part, although she did become somewhat irritable when I asked her if she had noticed that the instructions on doors to the maternity ward seemed to have been written with some kind of thematic intent.
"What?" she muttered breathlessly as another spasm of agony crossed her face. "What the hell are you on about, Morris?"
"Didn't you see?" I tried to take her mind off the pain. "The doors into the maternity ward? The one on the left says 'Push'."
"What?!" Gail squeezed her eyes together.
"And the one on the right says 'Push Harder'." I chortled merrily and tried to get her to join in. I always think it's a good idea to use humour to diffuse a difficult situation.
Linguistic scruples prevent me from repeating the exact words of Gail's rejoinder but the exchange clearly instigated an emotional response of sorts, because only minutes later the birth was complete and I found myself gazing lovingly into the eyes of Fraser, a brother for Margaret.
It was an emotional moment, I have to confess, and I pondered the lad's future as the midwife handed over the swathing bundle and, as I handed her our camera, she agreed to take a photograph of us all.
"Smile, now, Mr and Mrs Simpson," she encouraged us. "D'youse think this one could become a teacher as well?"
Unfortunately, she took the picture at that very moment. Which perhaps explains why Fraser Simpson's parents look rather shocked, even upset, at this, his first recorded moment on earth.