Why teachers should be curiouser and curiouser
My dad had a clear-out recently, and presented me with a bag full of knick-knacks I hadn't seen for 20 years or more. Among the sticker albums of absurdly permed footballers and film magazines proclaiming the genius of some kid called Quentin Tarantino, I found several relics of my schooldays.
There were the travel arrangements for my first ever adventure outside the UK: an epic, pre-budget-airline school trip from Aberdeen to Paris in 1989. The bus journey took 24 hours, during which the S2 girls hogged the television with Dirty Dancing and Kylie Minogue videos. Then there were three days of rushing around the sights, followed by another 24-hour slog back, with the girls still resistant to all imprecations that watching Blackadder would be more fun than Patrick Swayze's snake hips.
There was guilt as well as nostalgia lurking in that bag - if Oldmachar Academy's languages department is looking for a copy of Maison du Pre Loriot, sorry, I'm your man. (Although I'm not sure there would be much demand these days for this rather odd tale of teenage boys casually buying fags and skinny-dipping while holidaying in the Massif Central.)
Most interesting was my P5 English jotter, a treasure trove of the laughably quaint and strikingly topical. I still haven't worked out why there are so many references to bellows, thimbles, fox hunting and gramophones - at times it seems more 1884 than 1984.
But interspersed throughout are references to two books we were studying: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Stig of the Dump. These are as relevant as ever, coming in at No 3 and No 11 last month in our list of 100 fiction books all children should read before leaving primary school (bit.ly100PrimaryBooks). The former title, in particular, holds a powerful and enduring message for teachers.
Not dissimilar to Alice, newly qualified teachers (and student teachers) around Scotland are embarking on one of the most daunting challenges of their lives: finding themselves alone with roomfuls of expectant children or sceptical teenagers (see one probationer's story on page 12). Plenty of older colleagues will remember that feeling of rising panic, of forgetting everything learned about lesson planning, behaviour management and the rest, and instead being overcome by the question, "What do I do now?"
There will inevitably be stumbles along the road: lessons that go disastrously wrong, pupils seemingly sent by a malign secret service to undermine everything you've prepared. Alice points the way through all of this with her ingenuous curiosity about what lies down the rabbit hole. The best teachers, too, constantly explore ideas and try new things, whatever setbacks they encounter.
So on those days when everything seems to be going wrong, new teachers should rest assured. If you harbour a bottomless curiosity about the world, and want to share it with all your pupils, you are most definitely in the right profession. Enjoy the ride.