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Without front, you talk out of your behind

They were a class act: a couple of teachers, working their audience, getting a sceptical bunch of students on their side.

The "act" in question was provided by two lecturers from our local university, come to do a spot of proselytising for higher education in general, craftily combined with some PR for their particular part of it.

They worked as a team, feeding off and complementing each other, cracking jokes but still putting across a serious message.

It wasn't a particularly glitzy performance. There was no gleaming procession of PowerPoint slides, no slick commentary of the "aren't we wonderful?" variety. But there was an assurance there, a confidence that said: we are in control. In short, what they had was "front".

Teaching of course cannot be reduced to any one simple formula. To be good at it you have to be good at many things. And while front is just one of them, it's still an important one for that period of time you spend up there, strutting your stuff.

Like many qualities, front is perhaps only fully appreciated by its absence. Anyone who's ever sat through the lesson of some poor trainee in the midst of a charisma bypass crisis will know what I'm talking about. Some people just seem to have been at the back of the queue when natural authority was being handed out.

Although, let's be fair, it's not only student teachers who have problems here. Don't all of us suffer from a "bad front" day from time to time? You try to talk, only for it to come out as a grunt. And instead of that stream of urbane repartee that is your stock in trade, all you can manage is a meaningless babble. You look for help to your notes. Mysteriously, they seem to have disappeared. You call upon your memory, that store of mental treasure that experience has laid down like a golden lode in your brain. Nothing. Zilch. Not a sausage.

If you ever want to know what this seizure of the brain must look like to your audience, just think of the effect that 'frontlessness' would have on you coming from a member of another profession.

You're up in court (you're innocent of course) and your barrister's attempting to present a vital piece of evidence - a video clip perhaps that proves beyond doubt that you were hang-gliding in Hungary at the time of the offence.

"Now, ladies and gentlemen of the jury you'll notice that the defendant... Hang on, I can't seem to get the sodding thing to work. It's different to the one we usually use... I think I might have to nip out and call the technician... no, it's all right, it's working.

"So, as I was saying, if you just look at the screen. Oh dear. Is that really me? What an interesting hat. I seem to have forgotten to re-wind it. Look, perhaps you could form yourself into buzz groups and talk through yesterday's evidence while I find the right place."

Or maybe you're talking to your surgeon before he carries out a vital operation. "Well, let's see now Mr Wiggins" "It's Higgins, actually."

"Ah yes, of course. Never could read my own writing. Now then, about your gammy arm" "Leg."

"Of course. Leg. The left one isn't it?"


"Left, right, it gets a bit confusing sometimes. After all one leg looks pretty much like another doesn't it Mr Miggins? Trouble is with our job nowadays, there's just too much paperwork. You never seem to get the time with the patients any more. Anyway, about this arm."

Then there's everybody's real nightmare, the frontless airline pilot. You recognise it the moment you step onto the plane. Glancing into the cockpit you can't help but notice that the man to whom you're about to entrust your life has been carefully cultivating the "pulled through a hedge backwards" look.

His first intercom announcement doesn't help much either...

"Welcome aboard this Boeing 707, I mean 727, to Dublin. Sorry, sorry, did I say Dublin? I meant Dussledorf. Dublin was yesterday. Or was it Monday? Whatever.

"The weather in Dublin, Dussledorf, is... hang on... I've got some notes somewhere. Damn. I think I've left them in the car... Well, we'll just have to find out the weather when we get there won't we?"

With front it's not so much what you feel as what you show. I remember my first ever class. I was terrified, but I wasn't going to let them see that. So remember, the next time you feel your front start to slip away, try not to talk out of your behind.

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