Belfast Telegraph

Stormont's head teachers need a lesson in how to grow up this term

By Muala McKeever

The first of September. New school year starting. I can still smell it ... rubbers, pencil sharpenings, warm, sweating sandwiches in school-bag, orange squash in plastic bottle, bodies, sun through old glass panes, chalk, dust, wood polish and above all, new paper – clean exercise books and fresh texts.

And all of us poised, on the cusp, ready to do battle, already doing battle with either fear or lassitude, depending on what year we were about to start. A life bounded by bells, barked instructions and big beginnings.

Not sure why, but even now, 30-odd years after I last ran laughing out of my old school, the end of the school year still fills me with excitement and the start of a new one, with faint dread.

Some people love the autumn. I don't. If we each have a season, I'm definitely summer. Yeah, yeah, crunchy autumn leaves and the freedom not to have to de-forest the legs or apply fake tan to blue-white limbs, I get it that those are definite pluses when the days start to shorten again.

But it's the inherent demise of autumn that has depressed me since that day my mother informed me I would have to put on that blue jumper whether I liked it or not and "go to school!".

I've been resisting this time of year like a stroppy four-year-old ever since.

Being around young kids is interesting. They seem to like school these days. Obviously, the teachers are doing something right. There's not the same draconian terror of getting things wrong anymore.

Or maybe that says more about my upbringing and less about new teaching techniques.

For me, school was easy academically, but a minefield socially. Take a week off for a kidney infection and that was you, ostracised by your "best friends" for ages. You come back, wan and peaky and needing a little TLC, only to find they've re-grouped and your guaranteed place in the quartet of in-ness, is no longer guaranteed.

There are few things more awful for an 11-year-old kid than that awareness of not being wanted by your friends. I mean, if THEY don't want you, who will?

And kids that age have little or no sense of time. They haven't lived long enough to experience the wisdom of the phrase, "This too will pass". When you're a kid, this is forever.

Children can turn a one-off incident into a personality defect in the roll of a eye. "I'm rubbish. Nobody likes me. I'll never be any good. They laughed, my life is worthless. They didn't laugh, I'm nothing. He turned away, I might as well go out and get into trouble. She didn't listen, I'm going to be a failure forever."

Daft, but oh so real at that age. And, to be honest, some of us never really grow out of that black and white thinking, where it's all about me and everything is a personal slight or comment on me and my worth.

Hard to live with, either in yourself or someone else, this childish neediness. We excel at it here politically. Stuck in first form, suspicious, defensive and scared to take a risk. Occasionally a big teacher from America comes over and makes us get along, but once he's gone back to the grown-up staff room, we're back to our unruly, insecure, those who shout the most win, set up. And no one seems to be able to sack the head and deputy head. It's gonna take a big bell to save us from ourselves.

Half-baked idea for Middle East

If only Benjamin Netanyahu and the man who's at the top of Hamas in Gaza could be accepted as contestants on The Great British Turn Off, sorry, Bake Off.

More than seven million people watched this programme last week.

Seven million people mustered enough interest in cake and buns to devote time to watching strangers make a haims of it all in varying degrees.

Marie Antoinette must be going, "I told you so!" big time, up there. "Let them watch cake!" she'd be saying if she were alive today. We get our just desserts in the end.

Talk about rude way to behave

Can I make a heartfelt plea to you all. Please, please don't greet someone with the query, "Well, any craic?" unless you really want to hear their news.

Three times this week I've fallen foul of that question from people who clearly only used it to give themselves a short pause to intake breath so they could then talk uninterruptedly for half an hour.

You start answering, fully believing they give the slightest care about anything in your life, only to be hijacked, mid-sentence, by a juggernaut of a monologue about their whole summer. Next time, keep walking.

Belfast Telegraph

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