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Another brick in the wall

| November 17, 2017 | 0 Comments

“All grown-ups appear as giants to small children. But headmasters (and policemen) are the biggest
giants of all and acquire a marvellously exaggerated stature,” said author Roald Dahl.

The world is critical of teachers. The critics (non-teachers, of course) believe they know how teachers should teach – after all, they’ve been there, haven’t they? – and that makes them experts. However, the one person who, while not above being a target for criticism, is spoken of with a respect more than a little tinged with fear is the headmaster. And his staff, especially first-time teachers, are even more susceptible to venerating him to god-like status. He is “The Boss” – a very large frog in a small pond. Wherever he goes in his school, there is bowing and scraping. Which works well to keep law and order – especially if he stays something of a figurehead, taking assemblies with
authority from an elevated podium. Where he is 10 feet above contradiction.
However, after being out of it for a number of years, things change if he chooses to descend back into the scrum of the classroom. As every thinking teacher would agree, in an ideal world, headmasters’ conferences would be
banned. Yes, I know – conferences can serve to remove the Old Buzzard from the school campus, so allowing teachers to get on with the job. But what if he is determined to impose those wonderfully airy-fairy ideas he learnt at conference on his long-suffering staff? Years ago, our headmaster returned from that august gathering of those venerable sages with An Idea: “Education is floundering because of a lack of discipline! Teachers must insist on – nay demand – respect! And it starts from the very beginning of the lesson.
As headmaster – in effect, head teacher – I will demonstrate. I will conduct the next assembly
as you are all to begin every lesson: the pupils stand, respectfully silent, as you enter. They watch you
attentively and respectfully, until you give the command to sit. You have now imposed your authority. They are now in discipline-mode, ready to learn. Hereafter, I shall be doing class visits expecting to see you demand that pupils show much more respect.” The next assembly did not go quite as he planned. We watched from the hall as he made his entrance. He had chosen to wear his dark blue suit, double-breasted, with matching tie. His entrance
was thus imposing, but unfortunately somewhat marred as we couldn’t help noticing that his fly was open. Wide open.
There was an initial stunned silence. While I’m not suggesting for one moment that it was as bad as the tortoise actually shyly poking its head out (God forbid!), you must remember that in those buttoned down
Victorian times, merely drawing attention to the zone of unmentionables was quite out of order, bordering on scandalous. The teachers as one reacted with the thought: Who’s going to tell him? Not me!
The pupils’ reaction was less inhibited. It was along the lines of a rustling, and a nudge-nudge, whisper-whisper with much giggling. With hindsight, the great man’s reaction was understandable. Initially taken aback, he stopped in
his tracks, and then faced the assembly. Unfortunately, the turn fully exposed his incomplete
nether region cover on which all eyes were fixed, and the tittering rustle gathered volume. This gross insubordination was not to be tolerated. His expression severe, he raised a warning hand. And then, in an attempt to capture how out of line the pupils were, he announced in a stern voice, “This is unprecedented!” And then, most unfortunately,
riveted on, he added, “A very ugly thing is now rearing its head in this hall!”
The uncontrollable gales of mirth that followed this unfortunate phrasing left him quite speechless,
and he ended up stalking off the stage. Awkward, to say the least. However, after that, we noticed there were very
few classroom visits from him. Perhaps he had an inkling that respect and status are earned (or not
earned) rather than demanded. And that, as a teacher, he had worked very hard to get promoted as
to escape from the exposure to the less-than respectful world of the classroom.

Bruce Pinnock enjoyed a long and illustrious
teaching career.

Category: Summer 2017

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