IT’S a good thing my old French teacher has hung up his mortar-board because, had he been asked to follow the latest educational advice, he would have choked on the filthy foreign fags he used to smoke.
Red ink, it seems, is to be banished from the pens in Teacher’s pocket. It’s just too confrontational, too threatening, for delicate young minds to open up an exercise book and find homework errors flagged up in scarlet biro.
My French teacher couldn’t get through a double lesson without nipping out for a restorative Gauloise. And if there was anything he liked more than smoking, it was correcting our hopeless French.
Huge red crosses would be festooned across poor work. Glaring errors would be underlined several times, sometimes so hard that the paper tore beneath the weight of the affronted nib.
“Non, non, NON!!!!” was a common reaction to an incorrect agreement or an errant past participle. The exclamations “ugh!”, “gah!” and “aaargh!” were liberally scattered around, and for particularly idiotic mistakes, Monsieur reserved the ultimate badge of shame: a red-ink donkey braying across your work.
Modern educationalists would no doubt slap a health warning on Monsieur’s methods. No doubt they would seriously damage his students’ mental health.
But Monsieur was probably the best-loved teacher in the school. He had personality, and a passion for his subject – a combination worth more than all the pale-pink ink the plummeting pound can buy.
Monsieur kept discipline with a withering tongue, but others of his generation were happy to fall back on more direct intervention.
A friend’s teacher kept a slipper on his desk to show unruly pupils the error of their ways. The slipper was called Sid, and Teacher wrote its name in mirror-writing on its sole, so that anyone who felt its impact would be ‘branded’ on the behind.
At Christmas, Sid the Slipper sported a festive sprig of holly in red and green chalk, and when he eventually wore out, he was replaced by ‘Son of Sid’.
Now, I would not advocate corporal punishment myself, but I’m told there were no police call-outs to the classroom where Sid presided. And this teacher, too, is recalled with affection rather than dread.
•BEARDS were a teacher’s thing, too, back in my day. Normally unkempt, running into shaggy, collar-length hair, and tending to keep company with those other social outcasts, corduroy trousers and leather elbow patches.
Thankfully, after school you were less likely to run into such unsightly growth. Even the odd student wearing a beard around campus dug out the razor once they realised women weren’t keen on kissing Brillo pads.
But beards are sneaking back into focus again, helped by Prince William’s decision to sprout some facial fungus. The Beard Liberation Front, a shadowy organisation which periodically emerges to organise the Beard Of The Year awards, promptly handed out a gong to Wills for raising the profile of facial hair.
The BLF says it wants to fight ‘beardism’, which it defines as an irrational prejudice against the hirsute, but I’m not so sure it is irrational. Some chaps keep their beard immaculately trimmed, and that, of course, is fine: but there’s nothing irrational about disliking the sight of a man’s lunch dangling from his chin.
And I can’t help but suspect that some blokes wear a beard because they simply can’t be bothered to stop it – or because their chin’s the only place on the head still capable of sprouting hair.
I’m not suggesting such reasoning is behind Wills’ beard, but I still say it should go, if only to stop him from looking like Henry VIII.
And if the beard itself doesn’t scare Kate off, that thought should do the trick.