When asked as a little boy what I wanted to be when I grew up I always said, without exception and from a very early age, a headmaster. Not just a teacher, but a headmaster. Well, I did become a teacher, if only for two years. I loved kids and I loved teaching but I didn’t like teachers much, as least the ones I taught with. I looked round the staff room and decided I didn’t want to spend my life arguing about the coffee money and whose seat I was sitting in.
There was a great campaign once that said something like ‘You’ll never remember a brand manager, but you’ll always remember your teachers.’ And it’s true, who could ever forget Miss Makin who wouldn’t let the girls wear patent leather shoes on the stage at Speech Day because it reflected their underwear? I wonder if anyone reflects on ‘Mr Beech’ as they reminisce about the best days of their life. I occasionally bump into people I taught and it’s odd they still call you ‘Sir’, over 30 years on!
So, it was with a feeling of ‘here’s what I could have become’ when I set off to the Education Show at the NEC last week on behalf of a client. To say things have changed is a bit of an understatement! There wasn’t a blackboard in sight; the teachers all looked about 12; and it was nothing like Waterloo Road (where the majority of the problems, as far as I can see, are caused by the children of the teachers who make up the majority of the pupils?).
Education has certainly moved on and looking at some of the resources available to teachers now I wondered how I ever managed to get through the 40 minute period with a lesson plan I’d prepared last thing the night before and armed only with a piece of chalk and a copy of ‘The Day of The Triffids’. I was young, free and single then – whereas I’m old, free and single now – and getting in at 2.00am and then taking the class register at 8.30am was not that unusual.
The kids could always tell if I had over dosed on lager and lime, my drink of choice at the time – and how dated does that seem now – as I reverted to a spelling test as it was something I could do from memory. I can still see the words now; sheriff; professor, business; rhythm; biscuit; physiotherapist; receive; and finally, antidisestablishmentarianism, which I always threw in just to let them know I was still on their case.
School kids today don’t know how lucky they are. (I think I have grown into my father!) Our school trip was to an outdoor pursuit centre in Capel Curig; my son’s was to Barcelona and included a trip round the Nou Camp. We got excited if we were allowed to watch a BBC Educational video once a year, no interactive white boards for us. And school dinners were exactly that, school dinners. Awful and probably very unhealthy, but very filling.
Still, I did enjoy my time teaching and I remember the gifts the kids got me when I left. From Katie, some nice flowers as her mum owned a florist’s shop. From Tommy, some chocolate as his dad owned a newsagent’s. And I’ll never forget the box Sally gave me. Her dad owned an off licence so when I saw the drops trickling from it I assumed it was alcohol. I dabbed some on my fingers.
“Whisky?” I asked.
“I give in Sally, what is it?’’
“It’s a puppy sir…”
By Brian Beech