Silver screen dimmed by reality

1st January 1999 at 00:00
IN MY experience, fictional accounts of school life cannot compete with the reality. I can remember John Cairney's vehicle to stardom This Man Craig, filmed in the school where I first taught and whose headteacher was in fact called Craig. It seemed farcical as Cairney always pursued pupils after hours to the White City dog track (another local landmark) to win them back to the educational system. Perhaps he was only anticipating the "superteacher" of the new Millennium.

When David Blunkett talked of creating 1,100 new superteachers I wondered why he didn't announce 1,100 new staffrooms. Last year, in my union journal, I read of a probationer, in the first year of her first post, who already felt confined by those old tired cynics ("I've met one or two in the staffroom", she wrote) who should move over and let people with enthusiasm through.

So young, and nothing to learn either. Charisma shining from every eager pore. This is the stuff of To Sir With Love or Dead Poets' Society where the individual takes the establishment by the throat and shakes it to life.

A film link with teaching that I heard about recently might have sunk even this embryo superteacher. An English teacher turning back from setting up the video saw a pupil sitting, feet up on the back desk, and puffing merrily on a cigarette. Not unnaturally she remonstrated with him, only to see his hurt expression and hear him respond, "but ah always have a fag when ah watch a video".

For me the superteachers are those who are still in the classroom after 30 years dealing fairly and efficiently with every successive pupil wave. They're not away on networking courses, they're not pushing themselves forward, they're not washing the head's car. They're simply committed to working hard at a skilled job.

In film terms they're neither Mr Chips nor Miss Jean Brodie, though personality is important. Perhaps a training college could see film as a method of exploring the truth of relationships in school - it might be more productive than discussing targets and lesson plans. For me, Gregory's Girl with the zany eccentricity of Chic Murray as the headteacher playing his solitary lunchtime piano, and the two penguins walking through the entrance, captured a more accurate picture of daily school life.

One of my pupils lives where My Name is Joe was filmed, so I asked if he'd seen Loach's film. He said no and only became animated when I asked if he'd seen the filming. "Yes", he said, "some of their cameras got knocked." The dispossessed on screen had asserted themselves in real life.

A Happy New Year to superteachers everywhere.

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