Work token for granted;School Diary

5th February 1999 at 00:00

Monday This morning's registration bulletin from Mr Tod announced our esteemed headteacher's newest enthusiasm: a tawdry campaign to enlist whole-school support in an attempt to accumulate as many "Free Books For Schools" as possible.

He has exhorted all pupils - and staff - to convert the reading habits of their respective households towards certain gaudy newspapers, and their eating habits towards certain brands of crisps, and urged that all tokens collected from such sources be placed in a contribution box outside his office. It all smacks to me of the unguarded commercial exploitation of innocent children. And their teachers.

For once, Mr Pickup and I were in complete agreement. "It's a disgrace," he confirmed as we met in the corridor after registration. "If the Government funded education properly, we'd be able to buy all the books we need without ridiculous campaigns like this.

"Mind you," he concluded, forefinger aloft, "at least it's going to give old Toddy something to do at last, counting up all his little tokens. It's good for a headteacher to feel needed in a school, that's what I always say..."

I sighed, shook my head in dismay, and went off to teach 1W.

Tuesday I wish Mr Tod's enthusiasm for collecting free book tokens was matched by a disciplinary stance on the appearance of pupils' mobile telephones in the classroom. So far, he has merely instructed us that their presence "is to be discouraged", but such a mealy-mouthed attitude is, I fear, going to prove deeply inadequate.

The problem is assuming epidemic proportions, especially since Christmas, when every second child from around third-year upwards seems to have been presented with one of these hellish items by their misguided parents should they "need to get in touch". As most of our parents can't wait to see the back of their kids each morning by the simple expedient of thrusting them into our tender care for the duration of the day, it seems a touch ironic. And noisy.

This morning, for example, saw three strident interruptions to my lessons, all of them individually distinct: Lisa Charles's telephone played "Ode to Joy", Stuart Monteith's played "Jingle Bells", and Steven Austin's simply gave a standard ringing tone. A cheaper model perhaps. I was furious, I don't mind telling you, especially when I discovered that both Lisa's mother and Steven's father had merely wished to ascertain that their respective offspring had remembered their lunch money, while Stuart's parental contact was to remind him of an appointment with his social worker at the end of Period 3.

And my anger knew no bounds when Kylie Donahue asked whether it "would be OK fur Lisa tae ring ma number, sur, tae check ma phone's wurkin OK, 'cos ah'm expectin a call?" "No it would NOT!" I exploded. "Anyone with a mobile telephone in this classroom should switch it off at once, or I'll confiscate every single one of them!" Alas, my angry outburst was interrupted by Kylie's telephone emitting the first bars of "The Blue Danube" by Johann Strauss, upon which signal she excitedly placed her mobile next to her ear, raised a palm outwards in my direction in a gesture that urged me to be quiet (and I was, in astonishment!) as she proceeded to make arrangements for meeting her 19-year-old boyfriend outside the Parkland Discotheque this evening....

All in all, it was a trying day. Especially when the only news deemed of any educational significance in this morning's staff bulletin was the early success of 1W in collecting more newspaper and crisp tokens than any other class in the school.

Wednesday Mr Tod's Christmas fund-raising activity of releasing 99 red balloons at a cost of pound;5 per head has been deemed a financial and public-relations success, now that the pound;50 first prize has been awarded to Mrs Maitland of the Parents' Association, and duly reported in the local newspaper.

Mrs Maitland's farthest-flung balloon had ended up in a small French village during the first week of the new year, and a local denizen had kindly sent its label back, along with a helpful little sketch map of his street and an arrow pointing to exactly where he had come across the eventual prize-winner. Sadly, this led Ms Honeypot (PE, with some distantly-remembered O grades, none of them, alas, in French) to the mistaken conclusion that Mrs Maitland's balloon had been found in a "wee French village called Ici, just south of Rheims." Fortunately, she didn't speak to the reporter from the Parkland Gazette.

Thursday Gail's primary school has also become involved with a media-inspired promotional activity, this time from a rival newspaper group to Mr Tod's affair of "Free (sic) Books for Schools".

Gail's headteacher has sent a clarion call to all parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents of children in Parkland Primary School, enjoining them to purchase multiple copies of an alternative tabloid newspaper in a valiant attempt to collect sufficient tokens so that the entire school can go on holiday to Florida together. And Gail's been put in charge of collecting the tokens.

"That's up to you, dear," I advised darkly across the dinner table this evening, "but I suspect it could take up more of your time than you anticipate. At our school, Mr Tod's taking charge of the whole venture."

Her eyes lit up. "D'you think - if he's collecting for free books - that he'd be willing to swap crisp tokens and newspaper tokens from us, for Florida tokens from you?" I gulped in surprise. This ridiculous "token fever" even seems to have taken Gail in, as well as the more susceptible members of the teaching fraternity. "Well, I suppose so," I conceded. "I'll ask him. But, Gail!" I urged seriously. "Why on earth would anyone want to go on holiday to Florida with the entire school?" She paused, and looked slightly taken aback. "To be honest, Morris, I don't know if anyone's thought about that." Dismissing the question from her mind, however, she quickly bounced back. "So you'll ask Mr Tod, won't you?" "I'll ask, Gail. I'll ask" To think that education's come to this...

Friday Mr Tod has grown weary of his token-counting responsibilities, and has decided to delegate the task. To me, unfortunately.

I still feel that Mr Pickup is correct in his description of my position as "having been shafted", but in retrospect it's difficult to think how I might have responded any differently to Tod's politely-worded request that I "take on this important fund-raising and public-relations venture as a new challenge."

Especially when he reminded me that Jim Henderson's long-term absence is going to mean a bump up the promotional ladder for everyone in the short term, and (he hinted darkly) that this could mean I might find myself acting principal teacher of guidance if I play my cards right.

When he put it like that, I found it hard to resist the alluring prospect of arranging thousands of crisp packet and news-paper tokens into care-fully-sorted bundles, and accepted the task with alacrity.

Thus it was that I left the gates of Greenfield Academy at 4.10pm this afternoon with eight overflowing plastic carrier bags, my briefcase with weekend marking left behind in my guidance office, and Pickup's laughter ringing harshly in my ears.

And it wasn't any better at home, where Gail had already commandeered the kitchen table with class folder upon class folder of record cards in preparation for the mammoth task of collating an entire school's worth of Florida vouchers.

We looked at each other in dismal contemplation of the weeks ahead, and agreed that teaching was indeed a wonderful job.

"If only all we had to do was teach, dear," I sighed in sympathetic despair. "If only all we had to do was teach...."

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