Why I miss the affection of the nickname game

21st May 2010 at 01:00
Geraint Davies longs for the days of nicknames

"Peanut", "Nobby", "Bandit", "Thunderthighs" and (my favourite) "Sideboard Sid the test-tube kid" - these bizarre names, and many more, are etched on my memory along with the faces that go with them. They were the nicknames of some of my teachers.

What an irreverent, disrespectful class of `76 we must have been to address them in these terms. And they say the pupils of today have no respect for their teachers? Based on these names we would seem to have had even less.

It appeared that virtually every member of staff was assigned a (usually not very flattering) name by which they were known to generation after generation of mischievous youths. Some are still referred to by these nicknames today, long after their actual names have been forgotten.

The tables were turned on me within a few months of starting my first teaching job. I remember learning, much to my chagrin, that my pupils had christened me "Basil". How dare they?

Perhaps it was because the school was in Torquay. Perhaps they had noticed I was a great admirer of John Cleese. But I had to accept it was more likely they had picked that name because I bore a vague similarity to Mr Fawlty, including the moustache and characteristic gait.

After getting over my initial mortification I began to see it, rightly or wrongly, as a sort of compliment - a sign of being somehow accepted by the pupils in my new school and having arrived as a "proper" teacher.

So I find it strange when I look around the staffroom today that I do not know if any of my colleagues have been given nicknames. As far as I know, not one of us has. Is this a good sign, or has a tiny part of our heritage somehow slipped away?

Maybe as teachers we are not meant to be aware of these secret tags. It may be that our charges do still plot ingenious, often cruel, nicknames but our intelligence-gathering is not what it used to be. Or maybe the kids are simply too streetwise these days and can no longer be bothered with such puerility.

Could pupils be more aware of their teachers' feelings and keener not to upset us? I doubt it.

The insults are more prosaic now. The best I have come across in recent years was finding "Mr Davies is a bastard" scrawled on a desk in my room (note the all important "Mr"). Not much subtlety in that.

So why the lack of imaginative nicknames? It's not as if we have a shortage of idiosyncrasies or unfortunate surnames in our staffroom.

More likely it is a symptom of the changes that have occurred in our schools over the last 20 years. Maybe all those nicknames that once seemed quite cruel were actually indicative of something else - a strange affection or even grudging respect for the staff.

They were created in a time when the world was less politically correct and a different dynamic existed between pupils and teachers. Our schools are now required to act more like businesses when once they were communities. Still, that's progress.

  • Geraint Davies, Head of arts faculty, Llantarnam School, Cwmbran.

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