Send them off with a smile

21st April 2000 at 01:00
SABRINA is an architect, Mary Rose a biologist, Katie teaches dance and Sarah is a civil engineer. Each Thursday I play football with four former pupils, the fathers of three and the husband of another. Keeping in touch with the pupils of our past is rewarding. Having launched our charges, it's nice to spot them as they bob up and down in the waves, or hear that they've reached dry land.

Watching their progress from a distance also reminds us that we often underestimate the influence we may have on our pupils and their futures. On Mother's Day, I found myself in a restaurant at the next table to Nick, my first tutor from university. In the intervening years, he had progressed from charismatic young lecturer to doting grandad, and, watching him with his family, I remembered a party in the early seventies where he dealt so patiently with his inebriated tutor group as they sought to discuss English literature with him while dancing to the Beatles' Rubber Soul album.

Later in the afternoon it happened again, as I watched the televised celebrations after the victory over the Auld Enemy at Murrayfield. I was taken back to a school playing-field in September 1962, where my primary teacher, Bill McCann, former fighter pilot and rugby fanatic, was seeking, vainly, to interest his carges in the oval ball. Suit trousers tucked into socks, he was kicking conversions from the halfway line.

More successful were his Friday afternoon readings of The Wind in the Willows, which launched my love of reading. When I teach war poetry, I have flashbacks to Ernie Spencer's fifth-year lesson on Owen's "The Send Off". It was a magical lesson and settled my career choice, its impression still so strong on me that I swear I repeat it word for word a quarter of a century later.

The thought that our own pupils may carry such images long after they have left carries a weight of responsibility with it, and although a casual "Hiya, sir", from a middle-aged passer-by in Princes Street, may reduce my son to tears of mirth, it can be a comfort to his old dad.

Not so much so, perhaps, on Saturday afternoons, however. A couple of weeks ago I was in my traditional spot at the Hibs game, well into what is, I fear, my usual mode, of finger-pointing, eye-bulging, vein-throbbing rage at some refereeing misdemeanour, when an innocent voice two rows in front piped up:

"Hello, sir!"

I looked down to see one of my current third years. He didn't miss me on the Monday, either: "Saw you at Easter Road, sir," he smiled. "Hope you weren't under the influence . . ."


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