Wallop the teacher, 50p a go;Last word

29th May 1998 at 01:00
According to a recent opinion poll the reason why children thought they did badly at school was because of their teachers. It was another front-page story.

One day I must glue together the full picture of all these negatives about the profession. There have been so many different criticisms, it is easy to lose track of what the villains are up to now.

Over the years teachers have been accused by Marxists of preparing children solely for life in the factory. The bell at the end of each lesson was merely a preparation for the factory hooter, it was said. Future workers were being taught blind obedience.

Meanwhile, the right wing was attacking schools for not being interested in the world of work and for allowing children to do what they wanted. Future workers were being taught blind disobedience, it was claimed. Capitalist lackeys or wild anarchists, which is it? Both, apparently.

Another line of attack is that school is too boring because teachers simply peddle facts at children. Marking books in red is naughty.JCreative potentialJbecomes smothered under all thisJtransmission, indoctrinationJand recrimination.

ButJteachersJare accused by other critics of not transmitting the culture, of neglecting to correct children's work, of stressing creativity not substance. Hello schizophrenia.

When national tests were first introduced in the early 1990s, government ministers of the day said that this would rumble teachers. Schools' assessments would be over-generous, it was predicted, to cover up deficiencies, but the national test scores would be lower, thus exposing teachers' inadequacies.

When the first national tests were eventually marked, the scores were actually higher than teachers' assessments. So did education ministers rush to apologise, or confess that they had been wrong? Quite the reverse. They said to parents that teachers were underestimating their children's talents. It was a nice example of having your cake and also ramming it into someone's face.

Too strict, too lax? Too rigid, too flexible? Too many facts, not enough facts? Stick-in-the-mud, or trendy progressive? Hatchet-faced assessor and jailer, or laid-back hippy? Up and down. Round and round. Left wing in, right wing out; right wing in, left wing out. In out, in out, shake it all about. You do the hokey-cokey and you turn around. That's what it's all about. Hey!

In the Prater, the huge funfair in Vienna, there used to be a sideshow called the "Watschenmann", a "Watschen" being the Austrian dialect word for a clout across the face. It consisted of a large dummy with a padded head. You inserted your money and then walloped the plastic face. A meter indicated how well you had done.

It used to cost two Austrian schillings for five seconds of pure therapy. I often wondered which teacher had posed for it, or indeed whether one was still inside, collecting the wrath of the world against those who had tried to teach them. Perhaps it will become a fundraiser in Britain, when schools have open days. Only 50p to smack the crap out of the deputy head.

There are so many opinion surveys, critiques, reports, it is probably easier to say what teachers are not guilty of causing. So far as I know, but don't hold your breath, no survey has yet shown that teachers caused the hole in the ozone layer, or any plague of locusts. Nor has the teaching profession been proved to have started mad cow disease. Suffered from it, yes, but not caused it.

After much thought I believe I can explain how these contrasting criticisms have come about. There are, in fact, only two teachers who have caused all the mayhem and negative publicity, though they have taught in many schools. They are called Denzil and Albert.

Denzil is a fierce disciplinarian, Albert is a raver. Denzil underlines everything in red, Albert automatically puts "good" at the bottom of any piece of work, even if someone, when asked to write an essay entitled "What I did on my holidays", hands in a single thumbprint in the middle of an otherwise blank sheet of paper.

While the other 439,998 British teachers just get on with their job, Denzil and Albert do the hokey-cokey. They have a lot to answer for.

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, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today