The Old Hands

The Staff room Ernest Bevin Comprehensive 1972

“They sent me a student not long ago.”  His listeners nodded in commiserate anticipation. “Hadn’t the first clue of course, one of these Christian name merchants, came the first day in an open neck shirt and sandals; lucky I spotted him before Doc Brown, sent him back to College to change; should have sent him home for good; as much use as piss on a fire storm, if you’ll excuse my French.  He couldn’t understand why the kids didn’t listen to him.”

“Well you know the trouble, David,” Commander Delahaye took a long pull on his pipe.  “These days, they’re so keen on being liked.  I don’t know where they get the idea from, but it’s poison.  We’re not in the business to be liked.”

“They’re not going to like you anyway. Kids are kids – you just can’t expect human responses from them. My chap came in one day with a heavy cold. ‘They’ll be easier on me, when they see me like this,’ he said. ‘Don’t you believe it,’ I said and I was right. You could have heard the riot from here.  I had to put away my crossword and go down there with a slipper.” The others laughed. “It shocked his fine feelings, but a few sore bums later, they were all ears.”

“They never believe you when you tell them though.  Kids only respect strength.  They have to fear you.”

“Pratty , now there was a schoolmaster.”  The sigh of agreement whispered round the staff room. “You’d have thought that with a name like that, you’d be a gonner straight off. Not him! He told them, ‘You can make whatever jokes you want to behind my back, but woe betide you if you dare to say anything to my face.”

“Is the story about the picture true?”

“Absolutely gospel! I was teaching next door to him when it happened.  I didn’t find out till later though. Kids told me.” He pulled on his pipe and glanced at the clock. “There he was, in the middle of a lesson on Henry VIII, when this old framed picture falls off the wall and over his head. So he stands there – if you please – head stuck through the canvas, framed, you could say, and he carries on teaching as if nothing had happened. And…” He struck a match to increase the effect: “Was there any laughter?  Not a murmur.  They didn’t dare.  He said to me afterwards, he was almost laughing himself.”

The others shook their heads in admiration.

“I sometimes think,” said Commander Delahaye through clouds of tobacco smoke that they should set up tests like that for our students.  Sort the men out from the boys!”