READERS who turn to Albert
Morris’s Schooldays, will find details of my fight for survival in a
rigorous world of sentence parsing and verb declensions, the Pythagorean
pain of geometry and the exquisite agonies of algebra, all made worse by
flailing leather belts on pupils’ pink palms and hurts to one’s pride with
school report entries like: "Mathematics - could be worse, but not much."
That book, which is incomplete, will reveal my early madcap ambition to
become a teacher in some august establishment resembling Greyfriar’s
School as featured in the old boys’ comic, The Magnet, which included
Billy Bunter among its illustrious, fee-paying pupils.
myself, wearing gown and mortarboard, being greeted by fresh-faced,
school-uniformed lads who would doff their caps deferentially as I passed,
a figure of awe and affection, stern but just.
didactic dreams were not only from another time but also, one could say,
from another planet. Nowadays, I would as soon become a teacher as picnic
on the lip of a near-active volcano. The daily routine in some schools
resembles a cross between the Bolshevik’s storming of the Winter Palace
and the last charge of the Confederate Army at Gettysburg.
number of today’s pupils, it seems, are boorish, bad-mannered, bellowing
and ill-tempered - and these are just the girls - for whom education is a
bore and classroom discipline an ill-natured laugh. Their behaviour can
bring chaos even to the best-run schools and their anti-social behaviour
can spill outside as exampled in the recent tragic case of Linda Walker, a
Manchester children’s special needs’ teacher, who was jailed for six
months, with her career in ruins, after firing a pellet pistol six times
at the feet of a youth, one of a teenage gang who, she believed, had
subjected her home to a year-long campaign of vandalism, burglary and
malicious phone calls, causing her tolerance bonds to snap.
that was not a squalid, anti-social, school saga, it mirrored perfectly
what teachers, many reaching their frayed tether’s end, are enduring among
growing numbers of near-feral creatures of the blackboard jungle. Half of
Scotland’s schools are facing a worsening disciplinary crisis, fuelled by
widespread truancy, according to a survey which painted a disturbing
picture of a breakdown of respect between pupils and teachers, although
pupil disruption in the classroom is a growing UK-wide problem. Great
golden rule days; children as young as five, who were probably, as babes
and suckling, cuddling coshes in their cradles, are assaulting teachers,
and the same age group are asserting their "human right" to do as they
please, it was claimed at the annual conference of the National
Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers.
reports reveal that, in Scottish schools last year, there were over 9,000
indiscipline expulsions, with a teacher verbally abused or physically
assaulted every 12 minutes. And teachers are not safe at parents’ evenings
where, according to the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, they
face a rising onslaught of verbal and physical assault.
a growing number of reports of teachers, goaded beyond endurance, charged
with assaulting malcontents. Many involve incidents that, 20 years ago,
would have hardly caused a ripple of adverse comment. A teacher in England
with a 33-year unblemished record, was sacked when, in exasperation at a
disruptive pupil’s refusal to leave the room, flung the boy’s bag at him,
causing, the boy claimed, neck injury and parental complaint. He was
reinstated after massive support from pupils and parents.
special needs’ teacher who taped a boy’s mouth when he refused to stop
talking, escaped criminal prosecution after a police investigation, and a
Dollar teacher, in the dock for allegedly assaulting seven pupils, was
found not guilty amid claims that the children involved may have concocted
Nowadays, teachers are ill-equipped to maintain
class discipline. They cannot, as last resorts, use belt or cane; even
shouting is frowned on. Punishment exercises are often inadequate and,
teacher friends tell me, appeals to heads and parents for support can be
as futile as a clock ticking in an empty house. As a result, teachers
increasingly take early retirement or get less stressful and more
financially rewarding jobs.
Unpromoted teachers earn
annually, on average, £26,500 and have ten weeks’ holidays. For those
dedicated, hard-working teachers, many operating in classroom conditions
where a lion-tamer’s whip and protective chair might be appropriate to
impose discipline, I say they are worth every penny. As one who, had he
become a teacher, might have taken to drink in chapter five, I salute