Viva Zapata, flares and all

10th March 2006 at 00:00
The idea behind the recent BBC series, Life on Mars, is that John Simm's character, Detective Inspector Sam Tyler, is transported back to 1973 after a road accident.

He finds himself still a policeman, but having to get accustomed to old-style coppering, largely represented by the wonderfully bellicose Philip Glenister, as DCI Gene "Jean Genie" Hunt. He has to cope with a whole range of dodgy methods for ensuring guilty verdicts, not to mention some truly horrifying fashion accessories.

Just to make the whole experience worse, he frequently hears what he takes to be present-day doctors trying to wake him from his coma and debating whether they should switch off his support system.

Of course, it's an excellent idea for a TV drama, the 1970s props, the ugly cars, the weird hairstyles and the ambient pop music all being part of what film media does best. The constant contrast between then and now, particularly in something as telling as police procedure, gives energy and bite to fairly routine plots.

However, to those of us who started teaching in those days, and have a lot more to look back on than makes us comfortable, there are interesting parallels.

After the last episode, I imagined being transported back to my first year of teaching and being placed in a class to give myself a "crit". How would I mark it? What would I think of myself? What have I learned since that would change the way I operated then? It brings a whole new angle to the review experience.

The next day, by one of those weird coincidences, a former pupil from that era came into my current school to meet a member of staff. We had a brief chat, and as she walked away, I heard her say to my colleague: "He's not changed at all."

Well, nice of her to say so, but a brief glance in the mirror would disabuse me of any false pride. Indeed, I hope I have changed: I hope I have a better understanding of young people, more confidence with their parents and, as a manager, a wider strategic view of school matters than I had as a probationer.

However, in another sense, I hope she was right. I hope she still saw in me the connection with pupils, the enthusiasm for the job, and the fierce commitment that I brought with me out of Moray House in 1975.

So the bottom line of my "crit" for that weird figure from the mid-Seventies with the shoulder-length hair, Zapata moustache, and flared cords would be: change and learn from experience, but work to maintain the enthusiasm and connection with pupils. And get rid of that Vauxhall Viva!

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