This takes the biscuit

2nd February 2007 at 00:00
my last commitment at St Pats was predictably emotional. I'd been asked back for a farewell assembly before taking up my new duties as a secondee.

The children presented me with the usual teacher gifts - imitation jewellery, unwanted Christmas presents, tatty "best teacher" awards and several owl-related materials.

The most touching present came as I was trying to make an exit without breaking down in floods of tears. Brian's wee brother gave me a box of caramel wafers. I knew his sister worked in the biscuit factory, but appreciated the gesture. Even through my tear-filled eyes, I could see that the wafers were misshapen.

As I wiped away a tear and turned the ignition key, there was a knock on the car window. It was Jimmy. He too, was crying. "I dinnae want ye to go Mrs McElroy, you're ma favourite teacher."

That was it. I broke down. Tears streamed down my face, as I turned towards the gate. Jimmy ran after the car. He knocked on the window again. "I ken they're no quite the right shape, Mrs McElroy, but ma sister has to stuff them doon her knickers to smuggle them oot the factory."

Laughing and crying in equal measure, I headed out of the gates and into my new adventure. By the time I reached the hotel, I had replaced the mascara, composed myself and prepared to meet the greatest minds in local education.

This was my first task: a joint HMIEdirectorate staff development "event".

Reduced rates.

The collective noun for the gathering could have been a pomposity of poseurs, or a strutting of sycophants. The false camaraderie, the pathetic attempts at wit and leg-pulling, and the shallowness of the repartee gave a poor initial impression. I tried to calculate the collective salary bill of the gathering, but gave up.

The jargon was unbelievable. The acronyms went into overdrive. Did I really want to be part of this? The contents washed over me as my thoughts kept going back to that little tear-stained boy who had lost his favourite headteacher.

The first of several break-out groups took place. Coffee and tea were available in the rooms, but no biscuits. This was my chance. "Would anyone like a wee caramel biscuit?" I asked, trying to mask a smile. I reached into my bag and produced the gift from Jimmy.

The assembled company was too polite to remark on the oddly-shaped wafers.

They were well appreciated. The director eventually appeared and made an earth-shattering contribution: "We need to get to the bottom of the reasons for working-class disillusionment with the current system".

I offered the Great Man a caramel wafer. He was closer to the bottom than he would ever know.

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