This Teaching Life: a very retro production

31st August 2001 at 01:00
LET'S play a word-association game. The word in question is PAT, otherwise known as the Professional Association of Teachers (though lecturers, too, are well represented in its 30,000-strong membership).

Here are my pet PAT words: tartan blankets; Ford Prefects; red phone boxes; Andy Pandy; Mary Whitehouse.

All right, I'm prejudiced. And in my mind, it's true, PAT dwells in a land that is forever 1955. But what else can you conclude when faced with their decidedly blimpish outpourings at this year's summer conference?

In their sights were the disreputable goings-on of teachers as depicted in recent TV series such as Hope and Glory, Teachers, and Big Brother 2. Even Coronation Street's cuddly Ken Barlow got it in the neck for his multiple marriages and other dalliances - one of which was apparently with a headmistress. Now that's what I call playing with fire!

Delegate after delegate stood up to condemn the TV teachers for their "heavy drinking, lazy, dishonest and irresponsible" behaviour. Real teachers, conference decided, should act as "good role models for children" in order to counteract the degeneracy of the media versions. (The quotes come from the Daily Mail who made the story a page lead and no doubt added their own resounding "hear hear" along the way.) Teachers as role models: hmm. One wonders if there are any among the old fogies who make up the PAT membership who can recall those long-gone days when they themselves were on the receiving end in the classroom? If they can't , I certainly can. Like them, I later became a teacher, but my role models at 16 were Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton, not the rotund 60-year-old who taught me geography or his dry-as-dust colleague bent on reducing The Odyssey to a dull list of events "to be learned".

Some of my teachers I liked and respected and some I didn't. But wanting actually to be like them at that age - what sort of sad case would that have made me?

And haven't any PAT members noticed that we aren't actually living in 1955 (or possibly 1855) any more? Teachers do drink, swap partners and get divorced. In this they reflect the mores of their time. Sometimes, no doubt, they swear and tell lies, too. I'd hazard a guess that so does the odd PAT member in times of trial.

Contemporary drama, on TV or anywhere else, needs conflict, vigour, controversy and realism if it is to be interesting. What PAT would give us would be a sort of educational Dixon of Dock Green: sanitised, bowdlerised and hopelessly out of touch. Something, perhaps, along the lines of the following: This Teaching Life (a PAT Production for Channel 6) Cast: Marjory, an FE lecturer in hygiene, teaching Health and Efficiency at levels 1,2 and 3. Stanley, her husband of 20 years, a maths teacher in a secondary school. Geraldine, their teenage daughter.

Scene: Friday evening as bedtime approaches.

Marjory: (Passing out the Horlicks) Hard day at school today, darling?

Stanley: Yes, but a satisfying one. We had PSE this afternoon and I told my form all about the evils of drugs. I could see they were impressed.

Marjory: Oh Stanley, did you confess toI Stanley: Yes, I thought it best to come clean. They respect that. So I told them all about that puff of pot I had in 1972. And how I didn't like it, but felt I had to do it not to lose face.

Marjory: You were a bit dangerous to know in those days, Stanley.

Stanley: True, but that's all behind me now, thank goodness. I'm much happier digging the garden and making my model aeroplanes.

Marjory: Bit of a role model, you might say, Stanley?

Stanley: No more than you are, old thing, for those girls of yours at the college.

Geraldine (entering): Hello mummy, hello daddy. Gosh, you're up late. It's almost ten.

Marjory: Yes, well, we're just sitting here quietly doing our marking. You know how seriously we both take it. Good time at the youth club, dear?

Geraldine: Rather! I was a bit daring tonight. I had a game of table tennis with a boy!

Marjory and Stanley: Oooh!

Geraldine: Yes. It was very nice. Until he started to talk aboutI you knowI Stanley: The dirty littleI Geraldine: Oh don't worry, daddy. I just told him to put a sock in it.

Marjory: That's the spirit. Whenever I have any thoughts from below the waist, I take the dogs out for a good long walk. Let them roll around on the common. That seems to do the trick.

Geraldine: That's what I like about you mummy. You're such a good...

Marjory and Stanley: ...roll model!

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today