School's out for ever

9th July 2004 at 01:00
Time for the big tidy up or, as my granny would have said, "a gweed redd up". I'm standing in front of the filing cabinet surrounded by nostalgia by the black bagful.

Memos on this; memos on that. Diktats from the directorate; edicts from on high; a veritable felled forest of paper on 5-14. Earlier discussion documents on the desirability of mixed-ability teaching; later discussion documents on the undesirability of mixed-ability teaching.

Enough paper to power ever more wheels to turn ever more circles and get you back where you started from.

I allow my mind to drift back to the days when the jannie's furnace consumed all the unwanted waste of the educational process. When fully fired up, it was like staring into the fiery jaws of hell - great sheets of flame shooting menacingly outwards from a space sandwiched between business studies and technical.

For a moment, I cease my wading through paper from the past. It's an image of the jannie disposing of the furnace ashes on snowy winter mornings. At the edge of what used to be the quad, the ground begins to fall away.

Taking a long run on the flat, the kids could slide for yards across the icy surface before gathering impressive speed on the down slope.

But the fun was generally to be short-lived, as the jannie saw it as his sacred duty to scatter cinders across what had become something bordering on a bobsleigh run, such was the speed of the more adept sliders. It was on such a winter's day that I stood at this very spot, the view as yet unblemished by the outbreak of huts, idly casting my eye across the open quad. For reasons unknown, the jannie's ashes had not yet been scattered and a slide of spectacular speed had been created during the morning interval.

Now, from the wings, enter the rector, clutching some important piece of paper in hand, moving with rapidity across the snow-bound waste, black gowned and wearing his usual brown leather-soled brogues. Too late, I realise that his route is taking him inexorably towards the now lethal slide.

No time to knock on the glass and gesticulate a warning of impending disaster. In a moment he's off, propelled by his own momentum in a spectacular slide, gown flapping behind him until balance is lost and the last part of this unintended display of winter sports prowess is completed on his posterior. Who knows what words were imparted to the jannie for his dilatoriness on the ash front that day, but I suspect that the heat of the heidie's ire would easily have matched that of the fiery furnace.

My window reverie at an end, I return to my task. At the very back of my deepest desk drawer I discover an ancient leather artefact, long unused.

Created from the outer layer of some thick-skinned bovine and split at the end into two thongs, it bears, in the manner of a silver hallmark, the authentic stamp of the Lochgelly craftsman who shaped it.

For a while I pause to remember the few occasions on which I felt called to wield the thing. I recall the red-haired boy from a fisher community who fell foul of me when I first came to the school. Doubtless there will be a politically correct term for his behaviour pattern these days, but at the time it would have been diagnosed as pernicious bloody-mindedness.

In time of reflection after his punishment, it seems that the miscreant had come to much the same conclusion. About a week later, he appeared at my classroom door. "Got something here for you, sir," he muttered sheepishly, delving in to his bag to retrieve the "fry" of herring which had slithered out of their polythene bag and swum loose among his jotters. I thanked him for the gift, trying not to think of the devastation to his textbooks from immersion in the fish bree.

I consign my belt to the depths of a black bag and now, at last, the mountain of memos, documents, discussion papers and sundry printed matter of once vital educational moment is bagged and ready for the skip. Sic transit gloria mundi. At last the desk drawers lie empty and the filing cabinet has an unaccustomed hollow ring. Pupils have said their last farewells and the blue clouds of pollution from the departing school double deckers have ascended into the ether.

It's time to go; nostalgia's creeping in. But hold - good news is at hand.

A colleague has come in to say that teachers' belts have become collectors'

items and that I'll get quite a few pounds for selling my preserved piece of educational memorabilia.

I rummage to retrieve the object from the depths of the bag. Now things are looking decidedly brighter. I shall dine on the proceeds of the sale, order a bottle of good French wine and raise a glass to happy days in teaching.

Douglas Willis was principal teacher of geography at Fortrose Academy in the Black Isle. He was recently awarded an honorary fellowship of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society for services to geography teaching.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today