So farewell then ..

18th June 2010 at 01:00
Retirement looms for Walter

This will be my last regular TESS column, though I hope to contribute the occasional article post-retirement. The prospect of ending full-time employment is both liberating and unsettling. No longer will I have to put up with the many frustrations of educational bureaucracy, but I may find I miss the daily challenges of the job, not to mention the cheeky banter with colleagues.

I have expressed a wish for a low-key departure, with the stipulation that any speeches should be short, irreverent and witty. In the past, I have witnessed rather awkward send-offs for former colleagues who have been eulogised in terms that sometimes bore little relation to reality.

Some years ago, I was a guest at an event in a splendid venue in Edinburgh, attended by many of the great and good. One wag suggested that a strategically-placed explosive device would have struck a great blow for Scottish education: I was glad to discover that my dodgy credentials meant I was placed at a table near a fire exit. The many tributes to the retiree were warm and lengthy, though one figure from the past had more to say about himself than about the person being honoured. I concluded that, when my turn came, a quieter departure would be preferable.

Another lavish occasion was more enjoyable, thanks largely to the excellence of the speeches, including one by a female Labour politician who had previously been a colleague of the man retiring. She told of the delights of canvassing in the east end of Glasgow. One door was opened by a lad of about 13 who had a can of lager in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The politician asked politely: "Is you mum or dad in?" The little charmer replied: "Does it f***ing look like it?", suggesting that he had some way to go before he met the criteria of responsible citizenship advocated by Curriculum for Excellence.

The most memorable retirement event I attended was one I had not expected to enjoy, but which managed to combine high drama and low farce. I had felt unwell beforehand and almost called off, but decided I must go as I had a small cameo role in the proceedings. On arrival, I downed a large glass of wine and immediately felt much better. The food was excellent and the company good fun. However, proceedings were interrupted by someone who felt she had a fascinating story to tell: in fact, it was an acutely embarrassing story which certainly caused offence to some of those present.

The guest of honour, a colourful character in Scottish education, offered highly-amusing reflections on his career, but also used the occasion to settle some old scores. The evening ended with a tearful presentation of bouquets to staff who had assisted him in his work. It was all delightfully indiscreet and may even have been actionable. A friend who had been present phoned me the next day to check that his recollection of the outrageous things that had been said was accurate.

I would like to end by thanking those teachers who have been kind enough to say they have enjoyed my writing and to wish them well in their professional endeavours. The battle against the forces of darkness - and I don't mean the pupils - is never ending.

Walter Humes is research professor in education at the University of the West of Scotland.

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