Ruth Lees, our depute head whose fondness for delegation knows few bounds, had the decency to warn me that I was about to meet a pupil who was (and I quote) "a bit of a handful", but insisted that I would be better off conducting my first interview with William Redmond in the privacy and solitude of my guidance office, "rather than with me hanging over you like a vulture, Morris".
There's a first time for everything, then, I thought to myself as I accepted her commission to discover exactly why young Master Redmond has been in six different secondary schools over the last three years.
The interview didn't start well, I have to concede. I gave my new charge a registration form on which his only required task was to inscribe his name. Unfortunately, this caused a degree of difficulty and debate.
"So what's your full name then, er, William . . ?" I asked tentatively.
"Wullie Redmond!" he barked, with as much insolence as it seemed possible to load on to four syllables.
"So what's this - eh - name you've put here?" I enquired with infinite patience, pointing to his completed form. "William - er - Redmond, er - Ron? What's the 'Ron' part you've put after your surname, eh Wullie?" I tried to endear myself. "William Redmond Ron, it says here," I pointed to the form. "Is Ron a nickname? Or your dad's name?" He looked magnificently scornful, then shrugged his shoulders as if he'd met incompetents like me before. "It's ma full name, like ye asked fur. An' it's ma 'Ron' afterwards, in'tit?" "Your what?" "Ma RON. Ma Record o' Needs. Ah've goat a Record o' Needs," he announced proudly. "An' ma mammy says tae make sure ma teachers know, so tae pit it after ma name."
"I see," I bit my lower lip firmly. "Well, thank you for the information, er, Wullie," I replied, lapsing into the vernacular to let him feel at home. "I'll make sure all your class teachers are made aware of the fact."
"Aye," he folded his arms sternly.
"Make sure ye dae."
TUESDAY: "Ruth," I approached Ms Lees with as much mental strength as I could muster at morning break. "It's about this Willie Redmond."
"Yes, Morris?" she appeared to smile with an immense degree of warmth. Personally, I've always found her to be at her most dangerous at such moments, but I put my prejudices behind me and asked for the full story.
"The full story, Morris?" she opened her eyes wide with innocence - and I knew at once that there was more to Willie Redmond than met the eyes.
"Yes, the full story, Ruth. Like why he's on a Record of Needs statement that's longer than War and Peace. Like why he's got an assessment profile that makes Hannibal Lecter appear to be a social unfortunate whose crimes were all society's fault. Like why we've accepted a pupil with occasional incontinence, permanent emotional insecurity, plus a police record of theft, arson and six school records of assaults on teachers. And like why you never told me he'd been arrested for selling drugs at Parkland filling station last April."
"Ah, that," she conceded ruefully. "Didn't I tell you about the drugs arrest, then, Morris?" "No, you didn't tell me about the drugs arrest, Ruth!" I almost shouted at her. "You told me he was 'a bit of a handful', that's what you told me. You didn't tell me that he was the educational equivalent of the anti-Christ!" "Now, I think that's pushing it a little far, Morris," she tried to assuage my anger, but I was in full flow by now.
"It's certainly not, Ruth," I insisted. "That child's got a full 10 pages on his intellectual needs, another 10 on his curricular needs, plus about 25 more on each of his social and emotional needs. He showed them to me like he was displaying an Olympic ruddy medal, Ruth, and then had the cheek to ask whether I could think of any more I'd like to add."
"And did you?" "I suggested that five minutes' acquaintance hadn't allowed me to see the full shape of his character and I'd prefer to make a judgment after he'd had a full term with us of trying to improve his behaviour."
"And?" "And the concept of trying to improve his behaviour seemed completely alien, I'm afraid. To be perfectly honest, he seemed more interested in trying to add more details to his Record of Needs. Which probably explains why as I tried to shake his hand at the end of the interview, I had to dodge an unprovoked kung-fu kick which narrowly missed my glasses before I could duck out of his way.
"He claimed that his martial arts training had conditioned him to respond to outstretched hands with just the kind of high-profile reaction I had the misfortune to experience."
"Yes, well, it's all part and parcel of being a teacher in the 1990s, Morris," Ms Lees tried to assure me, though I couldn't help but notice that she wouldn't look me in the eye. "Just put it all down to experience."
It's all very well for Ruth Lees to say that, but I wonder what other job would have me dodging kung-fu kicks during my lunch hour.
WEDNESDAY: Mr Potter from the Technical Department has been in a spot of bother. As usual, the full story reveals nothing more injudicious than a few ill-chosen words on Mr Potter's behalf when doing some continuous assessments on the graphic communication projects that were being presented by his third-year pupils.In retrospect, however, he would have been well advised to think more carefully about his suggestion to Tracey White on viewing the three-dimensional presentation she had made of the chest of drawers with which she planned to furnish the "room-of-her-dreams".
"Eh - looks fine enough to me, Tracey," he had apparently advised. "But couldn't you get your drawers down a bit lower?" Well, to me it seemed an innocent enough remark, but - to Tracey White and her cohort of salaciously-minded classmates in 3G - it had seemed the joke of the century.
Suffice to say that poor Mr Potter's words had been spread abroad by 2.30, and he was in Mr Tod's office at 4pm.
Personally, I thought it a great shame. It always seems so unfair when people make fun of the Technical Department . . .
THURSDAY: One of the benefits of recent local authority reorganisation has been the decline of monster authorities with powers beyond their competence to deliver. Or so certain commentators would have us believe.
But sometimes, it causes me to tremble, brothers, tremble, as the old hymn-writer put it. Because today the flip-side of that particular coin was revealed when our headteacher Mr Tod sought me out with news of a recent authority initiative which had particular relevance to my newest guidance recruit.
"Ah, Morris," he tried to put an arm around my shoulder, but I ducked away as quickly as I could. "I understand that you've been doing great things with Willie Redmond. Your reaction to that incident in the second-year girls' toilets was very well judged in my opinion, and I've been ever so glad that we kept it out of the newspapers . . ."
I murmured a note of gratitude as he swept on. "Y'see the thing about pupils like Willie Redmond is that we're not really able to cater for the special educational needs that kids like that can be in such desperate need of." I disregarded his appallingly ungrammatical sentence construction and muttered assent once more. "So I just wanted to let you know that at the headteachers' meeting yesterday afternoon we passed a motion put forward by Nigel McConnachie from Gracelands High."
"Oh yes?" "Yes! He pointed out that all of the educational support services in this region - and the three round about us - had been stretched beyond breaking point since the disaggregation of the bigger authorities in the past few years. So we all agreed that we get together and pool our resources in a whole host of areas - special needs provision, psychological services, educational support services, those kinds of things - and take advantage of the economies of scale that such an approach would offer."
"So we're going back to where we were two years ago with the previous large authority?" I raised an eyebrow.
"You could put it like that," Mr Tod shrugged a shoulder. "Or you could view it as a terrific educational advance which should benefit pupils like Willie Redmond. And their guidance teachers," he added pointedly, "who might be able to get them assessed out of the school altogether!" I sighed heavily, my mind a maelstrom of emotions. Once again, the wheel turns full circle . . .
FRIDAY: Mr Pickup has seen fit to derive enormous fun from the educationally disadvantaged status of pupils such as Willie Redmond (Ron), and I think it's quite disgraceful. Having only recently discovered that the latest addition to our pupil numbers seems incapable of referring to himself without reference to his particular statement and record of needs - and having come late to knowledge of my own pastoral involvement with the child - Mr Pickup took great delight in wishing me a happy weekend this afternoon, after which he smirked gleefully, raised an eyebrow or two, and set off jauntily down the third-floor science corridor, making a plaintive attempt to sound like a Phil Spector Wall-of-Sound type of experience. In a pathetic attempt at humour, he squeaked and bounced along the corridor, singing this home-made refrain:
"You met him on a Monday and your heart stood still! Da-doo Ron-Ron-Ron, Da-doo Ron-Ron!
Some-body told you that his name was Bill! Da -doo Ron-Ron-Ron, Da-Doo Ron-Ron!" I remonstrated strongly, but he claimed that he was preparing for the staff turn at next month's talent show. The malicious grin that appeared on his face as his copious frame whistled down the corridor suggested otherwise. So much for professional solidarity.