Season of menace and mellow fruitfulness
Another grey start to the week was lightened only by the imminence of our October break and the dawning realisation in the staffroom that the recent job-sizing exercise carried out by Priceless Duffers (as they have become known) was actually an object lesson in transparent justice and even-handedness.
Well, that's what Simon Young was assuring me as we clustered around the underpowered one-portion microwave oven responsible for heating seven lunches in a row (and usually failing to do so before the end of lunchtime).
"You what, Simon?" I queried our principal teacher of English, communications and media studies uncertainly. "I thought you said last week that the job-sizing review was the biggest miscarriage of justice since the Dreyfus case?"
"Ah, but that was then, Morris," he explained, "and this is now.
"I've been analysing it across the school and I realise that, for example, the reason I'm one point less than Mrs Bradford in maths is because we had a vacancy in the department last year, whereas they had a 'McCrone-free'
probationer, a supernumerary that the school took on to get in the council's good books. So, although we had to organise extra cover or do extra 'please takes' while they had a spare teacher on their hands for eight months, it seems abundantly fair to me that my job is now permanently worth less than that of principal teacher of maths."
His sarcasm and growing anger became clearer as he carried on in bitter mode.
"And what about our friends in guidance just over the county boundary? When Priceless Useless sizes them all at Point 1 and the authority decides to resize them on Point 3, it seems pretty fair to everyone. Except my pal Andy Park, who suddenly finds himself moved from 4 to 3 and doing a job that's suddenly worth a grand less than the week before!
"As far as I'm concerned, Morris," he continued, "the whole thing stinks! For all the accuracy they've achieved in the exercise, they might as well have measured a certain part of the anatomy!
"And what about the primary schools?" his voice rose in frustration. "I'll bet they're bloody smiling at your wife's place, Morris, what with all the principal teachers flying around, desperately trying to be principal of something they can put on a job description.
"Principal teachers of what?, that's what I ask myself. Which academic discipline? Principal teachers of water bottles, maybe?"
It was a little below the belt, I thought, but I let it ride. Gail continues to be plagued in her Primary 5 class by the appearance of water bottles, fully sanctioned - indeed, provided - by the education authority to ensure the children are properly hydrated and alert. Unfortunately, they are still proving an enormous distraction in class time, with pupils taking swigs at every available opportunity until Gail is at her wits' end and would like to ban the bottles.
Anyway, the bell rang and Simon bewailed the end of lunch before his macaroni was properly hot. He concluded his job-sizing diatribe in aggressive vein: "And I'll tell you what. If that Judith Gillespie writes to the papers about teachers' professionalism again, I'll ruddy swing for her!"
Further evidence of the Scottish Executive's dedication to the dietary well-being of the nation's children was evident in Rockston Primary today.
Gail reported that the first (loudly trumpeted) fruit delivery had been warmly welcomed by everyone except, alas, the P1 children for whom the fruit was intended, as they had all gone home by 2pm, which was when the fruit arrived.
"I'm not too sure how well they'd have managed with cutting open the kiwi fruits anyway," she pondered at teatime. "But it certainly gave us an extra treat, and the cleaners too. Plums, apples, oranges, we had a fine old feast at 3 o'clock. I've brought some home as well. How d'you fancy a banana split for pudding, Morris?"
It seemed a fine suggestion to me and we saluted the Executive's generosity as we tucked into a potassium and Vitamin B-rich mountain. It would have been a shame to let it go to waste.
Simon announced the need to prepare our preliminary exam papers at this morning's departmental meeting.
"But surely you're a bit early?" questioned Irene Donnelly.
"We've got months yet."
Simon shrugged. "I don't think so. It used to be simple enough when I started out in this game - three exams: O Grade, Higher and Sixth Year Studies - but look at it now. Three exams at Standard grade alone, plus Intermediate 1, Intermediate 2, Higher and Advanced Higher, not to mention Access arrangements. Nearly three times the number of papers we used to have and all for a population smaller than we've ever had before.
"It's enough to make you feel sorry for the SQA, asked to deliver more than twice the service they used to but still required to turn in an operating profit within the confines of a five-year business plan. No wonder their heid bummers are in a revolving door." He fell to quiet rumination.
"Anyway!" he snapped out of his reverie. "Who'd like to volunteer to set the Higher prelim?"
Nine pairs of eyes stared resolutely at the floor.
"Mainstream Michael" Kerr remains in school, despite regular demonstrations of misbehaviour that would have had other pupils suspended or expelled by now. Alas, Richard Dick, our headteacher, is keener than ever to demonstrate our success in implementing the authority's social inclusion policy, so it looks as if Kerr is here for the long haul.
Despite the presence of his care assistant in most classes (now wittily referred to as the "Kerr Assistant" in staffroom badinage), he is proving beyond our slender means of control and causes mayhem in every class he attends.
I challenged him this morning in the secluded environs of the temporary bicycle shed, where I had caught him smoking. I won't recount our subsequent discussion in full detail (it still makes me shake with anger); suffice to say, I have never encountered such a wilfully unpleasant adolescent in 19 years of teaching.
It seems outrageous that every other member of 1C is having their education disrupted by the anti-social activities of this socially included but socially repulsive child.
I told him as much, but frankly I could have been talking to a brick wall as he gazed into the middle distance and drew languidly on his cigarette once more.
"Put that out at once!" I raised an admonitory finger and moved towards him.
Suddenly, feral like, he sprang into action. "Keep yer hauns aff or ah'll waste ye!" He jumped backwards, raising his free fist as the other clung fiercely to his cigarette.
My jaw dropped and my eyes jumped open. Deciding that further confrontation would only exacerbate the situation, I turned on my heel to witness a semi-circle of grinning children behind me and informed him - and them - that I'd be taking the matter further.
"Aye. Fine," he shrugged. "Whatever."
And I think I will.
Mr Dick is unwilling to lend support in the matter of Michael Kerr.
"We've got a lot riding on the success of this inclusion case, Mr Simpson," he dismissed my pleas brusquely this morning. "It's up to you to devise some appropriate behaviour modifications that will channel Kerr's energies in more socially acceptable ways. Have you thought of inviting him to the chess club, for example?"
I gasped quietly and withdrew from his presence. Four o'clock seemed a long time in coming but eventually it was the end of another appalling week and I found myself sharing my woes with Gail once again, though with less fruit in evidence.
Alas, she proved an unwilling listener. She was too occupied with the continuing saga of her water bottles, all of which are causing frequent toilet requests and several of which are now being filled with tooth-rotting fizzy drinks and fruit juices, in strict contravention of council policy.
"I wish they'd never started this racket!" she complained. "You can't get time to teach, what with telling them to stop sucking on their bottles half the day. It's like dishing out a set of dummy tits in a nursery!"
"But surely they need to hydrate their brains?" I reminded her of the fons et origo of the decree.
"Hydrate their brains?" she shrieked. "The water doesn't have time to hydrate their brains. It's flushing through their kidneys like Niagara Falls before it gets anywhere near their brains!
"But I'm going to sort it out," she spoke with determined air. "I'm going to introduce Directed Drinking. We'll set a time for drinking and nobody will drink outside that time. It's going to be the third 'R'. We'll have reading, writing and 'rinking."
"Drinking, Morris. We get shed-loads of bumf on Directed Reading and Directed Writing. So I'm going to submit a development plan for Directed Drinking. It's an ideal health education topic with practical classroom application and, with any luck, it'll use up a good 10 hours of CPD time.
"And who knows? I might even make a name for myself out of it."
I told her that educational advancement usually needs to be based upon sounder grounds of pedagogy, but she seems to think it might work. And who knows? Names have been made on smaller grounds.
Next month: Directed Drinking gains adherents across the land