Zac, pow, kersplat! The clues to disorder in my new register
Another new session meant another in-service day at Greenfield Academy. It was a depressingly familiar start from quality improvement officer Richard Conlon. First, he read out a PowerPoint about Building the Curriculum 4; then he read out a PowerPoint about Education Scotland, the newly-merged body joining Learning and Teaching Scotland with the Inspectorate, which combination would herald, he maintained, "a new dawn in the twin areas of curricular delivery and quality assurance."
"What a load of crap!" opined Frank O'Farrell at coffee break. "As far as I'm concerned, shutting down LTS was the best thing the Government could've done, or they could at least have merged it with SQA, given that they're one floor away from each other in the same building. But that would have made too much economic sense, wouldn't it? Instead, they chose to merge the two most disparate educational bodies - in geographical terms, not to mention any other - and spend twice what they could have saved if they'd followed my advice."
There have been multiple staffing changes at our school, and I seem transported back to my first days of teaching, when I hardly knew anyone in the staffroom. Many colleagues took voluntary early retirement in June, and many more just threw in the towel, while most of our probationer teachers have moved on, either to unemployment or the supply list, to be replaced by a fresh band of eager and lowly-paid hopefuls who look set to wreak yet more havoc upon our examination results.
Mind you, I can't exactly celebrate my own exam successes, as my Higher English class had a particularly disappointing set of results.
I am planning to launch appeals for most of them.
As well as new staff, every new session brings another fresh cohort of pupils, along with a fresh set of names, many of which strike fear into any teacher's heart before they've even met the child concerned. This year, for example, we've got two Nathans, three Shannons and one Aaron, plus two Sashas and - in passing reference to American TV shows, I understand - one Zac and a Caleb.
Then I came across Misty-Blue in my class register, and realised that this could be a year-group to end all year groups. I sought out Kevin Muir and asked for any educational or family background he could offer before I took the class, but all that our depute head could come up with was the fact that he'd met the girl concerned only once at a primary induction day, and that she seemed "Misty-Blue by name and misty-blue by nature".
My first meeting with 1D offered disciplinary challenges aplenty, not least in getting them to shut up and listen! I blame the primary schools myself, with their emphasis on child-centred learning and their encouragement of self-expression to the exclusion of all skills requiring concentration and commitment to learning.
Whatever the cause, I tried every trick in the book to get their attention: I stopped in mid-sentence when noise levels rose to outrageous proportions - but they just grew louder; I whispered quietly in the hope that they'd be keen to hear what I was saying (they weren't); and I eventually shouted at the top of my voice, which at least had a momentary calming effect. I think I'd better get in a large supply of throat lozenges for the coming year.
Of course, discipline wasn't helped by the arrival of another African boy whose father has taken up a post at Rockston General Hospital. With a name like Jobi, I am concerned that he is going to have a rather difficult beginning to his secondary school career; indeed, he has already become known to his peers as "wee Jobi", and I suspect such an appellation was to be expected from his classmates.
But I hadn't expected it from any staff, especially not Mike Baggs, the child's guidance and PE teacher!
My initial assessment of our new first year's disciplinary status was confirmed today by the worst pitched battle we have ever experienced between the cohorts of our different feeder schools.
Chaos ensued after Nathan McBride (Newton Street Primary) purposely bumped into Aaron Galloway (Maxwell Primary) as they left the lunch queue, causing him to drop the nutritious salad he had just purchased. A challenge from Aaron to "pick that up, ye wee shite" went unacknowledged by Nathan, after which point a battle of appropriately biblical proportions broke out as the two boys were rapidly joined by their respective former classmates and the representatives of at least three other primaries with ancient scores to settle and age-old grudges to repay.
Boys, girls, the sex didn't matter as food started flying in all directions and punches began to be thrown. It's at times like these that someone with the physical stature of Mike Baggs admittedly comes into his own, as he waded into the maelstrom and started dispensing summary justice with fine disregard for debate and reconciliation procedures.
Meanwhile, poor little Jobi stood back from the fray, eyes wide in fear and alarm as he presumably contemplated the difficulties he had experienced in his previous, war-torn, country, and compared them with life at Greenfield Academy. I lifted a dish of caramel shortbread with custard from the dining room counter and took it over; he looked up and smiled gratefully, before I hurried him out to safety.