Seize the day ... I and the money;Last word

17th April 1998 at 01:00
Never look a gift horse in the mouth. No, let me rephrase that. If someone actually gives you a horse, and few people do nowadays, take but a quick look in its mouth. If it is actually breathing, accept it with alacrity. You can always sell it for a few quid down at the knacker's yard. Every little helps.

I was a bit surprised at the moans when all schools were given their pound;1,000 books bonus. "This will create enormous problems for us," said Ned Nock (59), chairman of Swineshire County Primary School governors.

Come on, Ned, you might win the lottery one day: "Oh dearie dearie me. What am I going to do with all these millions. There's Aunty Mavis wanting to go to Blackpool for a start ..."

Time was certainly short, and in a perfect world, maybe, there would be several months to prepare, but in the considerably imperfect one that we currently inhabit, most things have to be done by yesterday, so I prefer to act first and moan later.

Knowing how to busk it may turn out to be the key skill in the fast moving world of the next millennium.

Teachers have always had to be opportunistic scavengers. Seizing the moment is an important part of professional expertise. There was a cartoon of a few years ago that showed two children sitting together in class. One was whispering to the other: "Don't look out of the window or she'll make you write a poem about it."

I once visited a primary school where this cartoon was almost a reality. Right next to one teacher's classroom a building site opened up, as some entrepreneur decided to build a crescent of detached houses. Rather than surrender to the daily banging, clanging and assorted renditions of the current top twenty, she decided to turn adversity into triumph, so she took her eight-year-olds round the site, accompanied by the foreman.

Bricks were measured, details of house construction were noted, the supply of electricity and water was investigated. The crowning glory was a magnificent wall in the classroom, constructed entirely from empty shoe boxes she had begged from a local shoe shop, all neatly painted brick red. It was a fine example of living maths, language, geography, and technology.

Not being thrown by the unexpected is vital to teachers, but it is a characteristic that will also be of value to children in their adult lives. Who can know what the future will hold? They may unexpectedly be made redundant, have to learn new skills, move to another town, or indeed take up residence in a different country.

In these circumstances the ability to cope with novelty, to respond speedily and positively in strange situations, may be a lifesaver. Employers increasingly seek people who are adaptable and flexible, able to use their initiative.

In work or in the family, people have to react quickly to the unpredicted. It is the permanent worry of each generation that the next one will be incapable, paralysed by its own incompetence.

Whereas we could light a fire with a magnifying glass and a small torch, we like to believe, cook a nourishing casserole from a discarded boot and an Oxo, or crochet a bungalow from a pair of old socks, this lot would starve to death if the supermarkets shut for a day.

Yet resourcefulness and survival can be learned. They are not just rare traits that only a few lucky people have at birth.

Thousands of adults believe that they are at the mercy of mysterious external forces, that there is nothing they can do with any cruel cards they are dealt by life's mischief.

Teachers and parents are important role models here. If they appear to be easily flummoxed, tending to fret and wring their hands, rather than act decisively, children will learn by example that indecision is the norm. They might decide, early in their lives, that almost every problem is insoluble, to be addressed by others, not themselves. It is a recipe for a nation of passengers, with few drivers.

That is why I was worried at the occasional negative reaction to the Government's pound;1,000 book offer. I hope that any future bounties will be seized. Don't ask too many questions. If it is tainted you can always give it back later (less a handling charge, of course). Take the money and run like hell, is my advice.

Then, once you are round the corner, get your breath back, count the loot, bank it and make sure you spend it before anyone changes their mind.

"You want your fifty grand back? Sorry squire, you'll have to knock those inside toilets down and sell off the bricks and fittings".

The Government has promised to make money available for school buildings, so being prepared is vital. If the phone rings, sound positive and dynamic, no ifs or maybes. Appear to be right on top of it, raring to go, and have a copy of Yellow Pages handy. It may soon become the most important book in education.

Talk in an upbeat voice, giving the impression that you are prepared to have a go at anything and, most important of all, don't hesitate, even for a second. Just keep saying, over and over again, the key word in these circumstances: "Yes ... yes ... yes".

Ring ring. Ring ring.

"Is that Swineshire Comprehensive?"

"Yes. We've got an estimate and it's pound;1,497,296".

"But I ..."

"Yes. Scroggins and Scroggins have agreed to be the architects, and Buggins Builders have put in the best tender".

"But I only ..."

"Yes. They can start on Tuesday and be finished by the end of term".

"But I only rang to say that our John's got a bad cold, so is it all right if he misses PE?"

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