Take us right back up the hill, Jack

17th November 2000 at 00:00
IN breezes Jack McConnell with joie de vivre and his brush strokes poised for speedy delivery. Before the drum roll fades he is describing how he is appalled by the shambles within the Scottish Qualifications Authority. Good, good. We need that language of theatrical intent. After Sam Galbraith's lingering in the wings we relish this giving it to us straight from the proscenium arch. Great start!

Actually, I'm not sure about our new minister. It's not that he lacks ability.

Experience, too, he probably has in ample sufficiency. Strength of character?

Yes, I'm sure he's as capable as the next man of venting spleen and bile over his political enemies. But, like all Shakespeare's tragic heroes, he may have a fatal flaw. He was a teacher before he entered politics.

Don't be ridiculous, you remonstrate. Surely he will have real insight into what makes us growl about our lot in the classroom. And, anyway, newspapers have been seeking out erstwhile teaching colleagues who mostly said what a cheery chappie he was and how it had always been obvious he was going places.

This is precisely what I am afraid of. Something happens to teachers when they leave the profession behind. Born- again Christians are the same. Because they have given up their pleasures, their main aim is to ensure that the rest of us are totally miserable as well.

If you're not convinced, think about how mean practising teachers can be to one another. Who likes to deliver an in-service to our own? There is no more critical audience than a bunch of brooding teachers. They can be inordinately rude, muttering and behaving like the kids they teach as they audibly wish they were elsewhere. If we escape from the profession we're like savage beasts as we rage at the poor souls left behind. These would be the ones with the never-ending holidays who get home in time to see the afternoon chat shows.

But if I'm wrong, Jack (I'm tking liberties using your first name because you were once one of us), then I'll be the first to apologise because you have taken on a cracker of a job. The SQA is the obvious problem. Anyone who sorts out that mess will receive my respect both as a teacher and parent. But the list of other things wrong is endless.

Shortly I will be trotting down to Higher Still seminar days in Glasgow and Edinburgh. These affairs are usually billed to begin at 10am and to end about 3.30pm (not good value for taxpayers' money). Most seminars start late and the first exercise usually involves the overhead projector. We are given copies of the overheads which are then flashed up. The presenter proceeds to read them to us. Boring. Unnecessary. Insulting. The rest of the day follows in much the same ilk, with a large proportion of the attendees disappearing at lunchtime.

Too much in Scottish education suffers from such a serious lack of quality.

Other challenges are stacking up. A non-teaching friend recently had reason to attend a meeting in a local school. She was shocked by the fading paper, the ancient curtains and the cracked walls.

Class sizes? In most schools they're still too large. The ageing profession?

Why are we not recruiting young teachers in sufficient numbers? Why are some colleges still churning out new teachers without introducing them to the most recent research on, for instance, brain theory, multiple intelligences, co operative learning. I could go on.

And so I want Jack to succeed before it really is too late for some of these major issues. Contrary to what I may have implied I wouldn't want him to give us any special favours just because he has been on our side of the fence. I hope he can somehow move forward on the principle that most of us are extremely hard- working and that we want the very best for the kids we teach just as we do for our own kids. I wish him luck.

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