Today I noticed, with not a small amount of alarm that lots of primary-aged children were being inadequately supervised on the beach. Some were burying their siblings in the sand, while others were running squealing into the sea. A few were shivering violently in an effort to maintain core body temperature. “That boy needs wrapping in a towel,” I told Mrs Eddison, who, in turn, reminded me that he was not my responsibility.
We were strolling along the shore at Filey (south of Scarborough) towards a narrow strip of rock that juts into the sea to form the northern tip of Filey Bay. This rock is called the Brigg. My friend Eddie (a retired geography teacher) could explain its geology in minute detail, but the only rock I’m familiar with has “Filey” written in the middle.
This place has been a favourite since June 1986, when it helped me to survive my probationary year. At a time when new teachers were expected to sink or swim, I mostly floundered. Only when someone thought I might be going under for the last time was I offered a lifebelt. “You’ll get brownie points for volunteering to do this,” said Mrs Batty (deputy head and mentor) as we waved goodbye to relieved parents from the coach window.
Taking 20 needy children from a decimated mining community to the seaside for a week promised to be a wonderful opportunity for an enthusiastic young teacher. But the joy of exciting days filled with sea, sand and headcounts was spoiled by evenings when the tide of excitement ebbed and exposed the dreaded “Filey Diaries”. Persuading children exhausted from doing stuff to record the stuff that they’ve been doing isn’t easy.
The roar of the ocean
But Mr Ahab (headteacher) had announced that their Filey Diaries would be the subject of a school assembly. So when my yawned threats and pleas failed to save a puffin colony, a lifeboat station and Whitby Abbey for posterity, I knew I was in trouble. Worn down by responsibility and lack of sleep, I saw the assembly haunting my horizon like a black-sailed ship. I needed something colossal to inspire the children.
And what could be more colossal than a whale on Filey Brigg? At least that’s what Ryan said it was, and trying to persuade a child who has rarely travelled beyond Rotherham that he’s confusing one sea mammal with another isn’t simple. In the excitement, all my attempts to explain that it wasn’t a whale fell on ears deafened by the ocean’s roar.
Because a monster from the deep trumps a probationary teacher’s authority, my pleas for everyone to come back went unheeded. With the furious sea threatening to drag several young children and my career into the abyss, Mrs Batty finally lost patience and blew her whistle. “Get your clipboards out, sit on your bottoms and write about it,” she snapped.
When his diary account left Mr Ahab confused as to whether he’d really seen a whale on Filey Brigg, Ryan grudgingly admitted the truth. “Turns out it were nowt but a dead seal.”
Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield