Lesson 25 on Resourcefulness
If I had to sum up the valuable lessons my pupils taught me, high up on my list would come how to survive in a hostile environment. I grasped right from the start that they knew more about this than I did.
There were a number of techniques they taught me.
1. Stay under the radar
in all dealings with any source of official authority make yourself invisible.
In school, for instance, there were children you never saw. They had perfected the skill of keeping just outside your field of vision. When it came to writing reports, you would look at the name and think “Who on earth is he?”. I once heard a pupil recommending another school to a classmate who was moving house. “Don’t worry, you’ll like Braeside. There are lots of places to hide!”
2. Play the institution at its own game
Understanding how to keep authorities happy was another key skill. Central to this in school was mastering the art of the Note. You could get away with most things by producing a note from home, signed by a parent. For example “Please excuse Barry from PE. He is under the doctor.”
At Airport Comprehensive, they insisted on a sample parent’s signature, obtained at admission to the school, to be kept for reference. However there was a flaw in the system. In those traditional pre-equality times, it was generally the father’s signature that was on record.
Barry’s notes were always signed by his mother. As his form teacher I built up quite a relationship with her over the months.
” Dear Mrs Wise, Sorry to keep Barry off this afternoon, but the Gas Man is coming about the boiler. They didn’t fix it last time. PS Hope you are feeling better. That flu is nasty.”
It was only much later in the year, quite by chance, that it was noticed that Barry’s absences coincided with his girlfriend’s in another form. Barry was a master craftsman at keeping the school happy, while organising his life to his own satisfaction.
3. Look after your own
In difficult circumstances, you band together to keep each other going and, unless it might be to your advantage, keep the authorities out of it.
I was in a primary school the first year that Ofsted was set up to “Name and Shame”. Everybody knew that the school would be at the front of the firing line for public disgrace – the estate was notorious for its poverty and petty crime. So the community rallied round. It didn’t fancy any more naming and shaming, thank you very much.
Mrs Purves, Owen’s Mum, stuck her head round the headteacher’s door, just prior to the inspection.
“I’ll keep Owen away if you want, Mrs Anderson. I know he’s a right little swine.” The head declined, but thanked her for the generosity of her offer.
“Well, if you change your mind, give me a ring any time. Just say the word. I’ll be up there in five minutes to take him off your hands”
I learnt my lessons conscientiously. Until the technology came along to keep us all monitored, recorded and under surveillance, they served me well.