Another brick in the wall

| March 16, 2014 | 0 Comments

The thing that brings a warm, fuzzy feeling to a teacher (apart from beer) is when a pupil he has little hope for (because he has so far displayed the motivation of a turnip) produces work of such merit that he (the teacher) is gobsmacked.

After he regains enough self-possession to close his mouth (the teacher, not the pupil, whose default jaw-setting is always vacantly ajar), he contemplates the golden possibility that perhaps… just maybe… is it possible?… the turnaround occurred because of HIS inspirational teaching!

This happened to me. Properly depressed after wading through 173 Grade 10 essays, with relief I picked up the last one. It was on the topic, ‘We have lift-off!’ I had no expectations.

In fact, it was a duzi! Wonder of wonders. There was evidence of research, with terms like ‘thrust’ and ‘escape velocity’ and a sprinkling of maths equations used. It was GOOD.

Then I took a look at the name. I could not believe it. It was Knipschitz! (Of course, it’s not his real name – but it suits him. He became a politician). I was particularly astonished because he had last been seen using dribble to write his initials on his desk. On his previous report, a soul-searching teacher had written the comment: “We both failed – but at least I tried.” At that moment my head of subject came into my study. “You gotta see this!” I said, and proudly showed him the essay.

He, like the New Testament multitude, was amazed. “This is a miracle,” he said. “We need to celebrate.” I (being warm and fuzzy from the success of MY pupil) agreed heartily. The next day, still warm and even fuzzier – I handed back the essays, except for Knipschitz’s, but I complimented him and told him his mark. Strangely, he was little interested but asked if he could have the actual essay back. Well, this presented something of a problem. I could not hand back his essay.

You see, in the exuberance of the celebration, we took it into our heads to give the essay REAL lift-off by turning it into an actual rocket – a paper one. We folded it into the traditional dart shape, tearing aerodynamic slits to aid it when it re-entered the atmosphere. One of us – I’m sure it wasn’t me – thought it would be a good idea to fill its tail with fuel – (which may have been whiskey, but I am admitting to nothing).

As it turned out, the rocket failed: it caught fire and burnt up. (Yes, I know: you are horrified. How unprofessional! And by teachers! How embarrassing. I mean, even a child knows whiskey wouldn’t work. We should have used fireworkgrade gunpowder.) But the unusual circumstances around the essay’s demise would be difficult to explain to a pupil, so I played for time.

“Why do you want the essay back? You know the mark.” “I need the actual essay,” he said tensely. “Why?” I asked, suddenly a little suspicious. “Because my brother will be very angry.” “Why?” I repeated. “Because he has to hand it in tomorrow to his university lecturer.” “Why?” Now full-on suspicious. “Because my brother wrote the essay for a secondyear project.” Knipschitz wasn’t even slightly embarrassed and tried to bluff his way: “You didn’t think I wrote it, did you?”

And I had believed in him! And had quickly become embroiled in dishonesty and plagiarism! This, however, did not really concern him, and it was then that it occurred to me that he would make a great politician. His major worry was what he would tell his brother.

“Tell him the truth,” I said firmly, “which is that you stole his essay and cheated with it and that you are in huge trouble at school. And I can’t give you the essay because it is evidence.” I said the last without even blushing. So what became of Knipschitz? He went on to a very successful life in public office. Perhaps he told his brother his teacher had set fire to his essay.

Bruce Pinnock teaches at St Alban’s College.

Category: Autumn 2014

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