I HAVE touched the Great Man's Hand. On a visit to our school with some members of his committee, I managed a brief handshake in a doorway with Gavin McCrone. Another committee member left her identity tag and I tried for a day to garner opinions from teachers on her behalf for the pay and conditions inquiry before being persuaded to send it back to its rightful owner.
It's hard to avoid a concerted anti-teacher blitz in parts of the media currently. I had the misfortune to hear a radio phone-in on teachers conducted by an erstwhile lord provost where the role of devil's advocate was raised to new heights. Callers expressing a favourable view of teachers were cut off, a former pupil phoning in to praise her schooldays was instructed, "Tell me your worst teacher story", and the few teachers who tried to engage in debate were reminded that if they didn't like conditions in teaching now they should have become lawyers or accountants 20 years before.
The programme resulted from an independent report by researchers at Paisley University on how teachers' relative earnings had fallen over the years. Not far enough, seemed to be the view of this radio pundit.
The tabloids are full of stories of philandering teachers, while the recent report of increasing attacks on teachers barely rted a mention. A case where a parent had broken a stick over a teacher's head wasn't reported - but I suppose the "Teacher breaks parent's stick" headline was avoided, so we should be grateful for small mercies. The Paisley University study is part of McCrone's evidence, as is information from the temporary staff in our school that they couldn't obtain a mortgage, but if they got a full-time job in McDonald's funds would be granted.
Without doubt, one of the inquiry's main challenges is to devise an attractive entry package for graduates. It will take more than an annual awards ceremony, or television adverts about everyone remembering a good teacher, to recruit and retain them. Perhaps offering a permanent job could be a start.
The typical conditions for probationers - temporary post, minimum free time, difficult classes, little support or supervision, periods of unemployment, emergency use outwith their own subject area - are in need of immediate remedy.
What prospective entrant is going to find unattractive pay, worsening conditions and perpetual abuse a heady enough mix to entice them to apply? I'm afraid I've washed my hand since my coincidental meeting a few months back. I'm hopeful the man himself won't wash his hands of the problems facing the profession.