Mark Steel: Teaching? Anyone can do that

Saturday 22 October 2011 23:49

Tomorrow's strike of teachers and civil servants should be one of the most enjoyable industrial disputes, now that Michael Gove has asked parents to pop into school to take the lessons themselves. That ought to keep teachers in their place, knowing they've been replaced by a French teacher who says, "Now listen, I've not actually done much French as such. But I HAVE delivered wardrobes for one of Norfolk's leading furniture suppliers.

"So to start with, let's see how you deal with a problem that might occur while you're on holiday in Brittany. You're on the beach, and suddenly remember you need to get a wardrobe delivered to your uncle's house in Great Yarmouth. You ring Terry at 'All Over Anglia' Ltd, who don't speak a word of French by the way, so how do you phrase your question to him?"

And teaching methods now are so different from when most parents were at school. So they'd leave the kids bemused, saying things like, "This morning we're learning the causes of the independence movement in India. Now as I understood it, the Indian is a basically happy chap but easily roused by troublemakers, so pad that out a bit and you should scrape an O-level."

And if anyone can pop along and help out, presumably somewhere a lucky class will be told: "Because of the strike, today you're very lucky to have your biology lesson taken by Mr Jonathan King."

The worry is the Government will decide all jobs requiring at least a couple of hours' training can also be done by whoever fancies popping in. Spirited members of the public with a spare hour can nip along and do some architecture, or heart surgery, or design an engine or fly a plane. That might make these cosseted workforces realise they're not as invaluable as they think.

The reason they're so determined to keep the schools open is, according to Michael Gove, the strike will "damage the children's education". Opponents of the strike also say the teachers are "taking out their grievance on our children". So it must be an extremely important day they'll be missing. Presumably Michael Gove was just as furious when schools were closed for the royal wedding, yelling: "How dare this ceremony condemn an entire generation to a life of miserable failure? Couldn't they have got married on a Saturday like normal people, for 20 minutes around tea-time so it didn't disturb their homework?"

Presumably there must be thousands of people whose life has been a wasted litany of drug abuse, because the school was shut for a general election in 1979, and on a day when they'd have learned about pollination as well, so they ended up a botanical idiot and now they sleep in the park. And to make it worse they can't even name the plants they're next to.

And in 20 years' time the most successful people in science, business and sport will be those who gained a huge advantage because their school stayed open tomorrow, so they were taught chemistry by a retired accountant, who may have spilt acid over a girl, but put the children before his selfish needs and that's the main thing.

Thankfully, with our children being so damaged by a day off, (and children across Britain do seem extremely upset by this), they're not so delicate about other trends in education. The fact they'll all be 50 grand in debt when they leave university, for example, doesn't seem to trouble them at all. And if fewer people are attracted to teaching because the pension scheme is worse, so there will be more schools where, in some subjects, the kids are without a teacher at all, that should be to their advantage, especially if it means they get taught instead by a biscuit salesman who sees a fight, barges to the front and yells: "Go on, Jimmy, SMACK him," and ends the day by saying "WAIT. The bell is a signal for you, it is NOT a signal for me. Oh bollocks, hang on, I've got that wrong."

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