Sweet wine of our youth

21st March 2003 at 00:00
LAST month I was invited to speak to our probationers at their weekend residential on "promoting positive behaviour". One of the joys of our staff is that they have a younger age profile than most and the influx of new blood is vital for motivating pupils and also for stirring the enthusiasm of old stagers such as myself.

The problem is that I don't see myself as an old stager. For me, Jack Kennedy's assassination was only 10 years ago, Hibs are still a major force in Europe and my classes should be well able to deal with scattered references to Rawhide and Z Cars.

And I really should know better, for, although I still manage to run and play football, occasionally all the other signs are there. Reading glasses help me cope with the ridiculously small print used by publishers these days; I know it's time to trim my moustache when the ends are glinting grey; and staff nights out see me home in time for Newsnight.

It was when I rolled the video that I suddenly became aware of my great antiquity and the probationers' fresh-faced youth. First up were scenes from Kes, in which Colin Welland was slim enough to be captured fully without the use of a widescreen format. I looked around the youthful faces as they struggled to come to terms with the supposed relevance of the grainy images. If Billy Casper were alive today, he could well be the grandfather of one of these probationers.

If he was, while their training to teach could be claimed a success for inclusive education, given their grandad's schooling difficulties, it would need a long stretch of the imagination to draw contemporary lessons from a film centred on a generation currently lamenting the demise of Adam Faith.

Willy Russell's Our Day Out was no more comforting, as Mrs Kay's 1970s Progress Class hit Conwy Castle, long collars and half-mast baggies blowing in the breeze, feathered hair styles giving the appearance of recently sheared sheep.

However, the power is in the message. My young audience got the point: children learn best from teachers they like and they like teachers who teach effectively and positively, with good classroom control and the ability to give and take humour where appropriate. The ensuing discussion was stimulating, for all age groups.

They were generous in their understanding and in their thanks for the session, and in so being, made an old(ish) man very happy. Well pleased, I turned up my Avril Lavigne CD in the car on the way home.

Rock on, Mr Chips!

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