Tough is a very hard act to follow

29th April 2005 at 01:00
Recently, a charming gifted and talented pupil told me I was the Simon Cowell of teaching. I had the arrogant prick excluded. But it set me thinking.

Day after day, term after term, I've tried to motivate my pupils by focusing on their successes, their potential, their idiosyncrasies. Whether their achievements are in the guise of a shakily hand-written half-page essay or a folder of A* coursework, I've always tried to motivate - congratulations, cheerful phone calls to parents, applause-laden lessons.

So how come Simon Cowell, the music maestro with the world-famous put-downs, is so successful? He manages to motivate while he mauls, and somehow twinkles as he belittles. Whether or not he's been reading textbooks for guidance I don't know, but he is clearly applying a technique known in the upper echelons of psychology as, "I'll prove you wrong, you big shit."

When successful people are interviewed, they often cite not the cherry-cheeked, smiley-eyed Mrs Tilschers from the world of poet Carole Anne Duffy, but the fascistic physics master who told them they were useless, would never amount to anything and had dubious parentage.

Ever since that day their life's mission was to defy Mr Physics, to wave their qualifications, their pay cheque and their knighthood in his vitriolic face.

Over the Easter holidays I decided this is the new me. I would transform myself into that physics master. Of Rachel's autobiography, my new line would be: "Your life is as dull as your writing." Of Ravi's Shakespeare essay: "It's a play, you blinkered moron, not a film." I shall sit upon my foam-filled throne and wield negative, destructive power, and ridicule my 28 acne-scarred adolescents. I shall laugh aloud at their spelling errors and spew forth on their rancid poetry.

The day of reckoning arrived: the first lesson after the Easter break. In my previous lesson with them I'd dished out chocolate eggs like an over-excited Thorntons hen; the only egg I'd be doling out now was on to pupils' faces.

Miss, miss, did you have a good holiday? Oh no, nastiness is so hard. I love them all. They are my surrogate kids who accidentally call me "mum".

Fight it, fight it, I have their long-term interests at heart. If I'm nasty, they could rise to be prime minister. If I'm nice they could be... just a teacher. I give in and offer them praise, smiles, and more chocolate. I am just a teacher, not a prime minister.

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