What's wrong with coming second? Nothing. Not as good as first, obviously, but sometimes a person needs putting in their place, their second place, and they can recognise it's the right place too. Equal second? Better than third, still something to be proud of. Equal second with a five-year-old girl, when you're a lad of 15? How's that for a put-down?
I have just seen a child prodigy perform. It was one of those music festivals with a celebrity adjudicator who sits at a huge table in the middle of a hall full of anxious parents. They clap like mad at the end of each piece, especially when something's gone wrong in the middle. The prodigy did not go wrong. She played a minute cello and sat on a tiny chair. She played flawlessly. It was wonderful and eerie. I felt I'd seen Mozart perform. This kid was to the cello as Torvill and Dean were to ice, as Louis Armstrong was to the blues. One day she'll be famous.
Her rivals were all 10 years older. They included a girl who played with feeling but drifted slightly in the middle. And the lad.
There's a genius in many a classroom. The art for us teacher-adjudicators is how to cope with it. This adjudicator got it right, awarding the first prize to the older girl for sensitive, if not perfect, musicianship, and the equal second prize to the prodigy and the lad. One day she told the little girl, one day... And the lad. Was he put out? Not at all. This cool dude knew that he was in the same league as a Torvill and Dean in the making, a Mozart, a new Louis Armstrong. He was as good as the best. And it doesn't come better than that.
Richard Hoyes teaches at Farnham College, Surrey