I started writing this story about 25 years ago. I, more or less, finished it in about 2005 and, apart from the occasional “tweak”, it has pretty much lain dormant ever since. On numerous occasions I have thought about trying to get it published, but I’ve never followed it through.
This might have been due to the fact that “it was the journey, not the arrival” which was most important for me in the writing, but it’s more likely to be the fact that I doubted that anyone would be interested enough to read it, and I couldn’t handle the repeated rejections from publishers, which would surely result from my submissions.
When “Ranting” was created, it occurred to me that I could, perhaps, self-publish, but again I did nothing. Recently a dear friend of long standing, asked me if I would publish “my book” on the website, so here it is.
To my wife Jenni, and (in chronological order), my son Damon and his wife Cassandra, my daughter Erin and her husband Eric, and my grandchildren Teneisha, Flynn, Niah and Zali, who have been the most affected and afflicted by the events detailed herein and who, more than any other person or event, have made my life worthwhile.
To my valued friends who have endured through all or part of this story.
To the tens of thousands of colleagues – the true educators – who have kept the faith and worked to benefit their students rather than themselves.
To the students who have allowed me to become a part of their lives.
Ron Brill was the principal of Granville South Primary School in the western suburbs of Sydney, when I began there, halfway through fourth grade, in 1959. He, and my sixth grade teacher, Mr Gorman, were magnificent people and skilled teachers. I left their care knowing what it was that I wished to do with my life.
Aged eleven, my ambitions were simple. As an adult I would find my partner for life and she and I would together build a strong family, far removed from the one in which I lived at that time. I would be a faithful husband and a dependable father to my children. I would enjoy as an adult, the security and happiness which I had never experienced as a child.
I would become a teacher. I believed that teachers had the power to make a great difference in the lives of children who were powerless to change their own lives. Later I came to believe that education was the key to the advancement of society, and that good teachers and good parents could, between them, change the world. I was only a kid, and I didn’t factor in greed, lust, stupidity and politicians.
While I wait impatiently for the clock to tick past fifty-five, enabling me to bundy-off from this part of my life and venture into the next, Jenni is still my partner for life and a most remarkable person, Damon and Erin are still proud to call me father, and each is a strong-minded, fully-functioning adult, and my friends don’t hide when I approach. My personal life is in very good shape.
Teaching is still, after parenting, the most important task in which anyone can engage. That’s perhaps because the two are so closely linked. Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers. If they don’t get it right, then the job which faces us in classrooms is made so difficult as to be almost impossible.
It is a crying shame that, as our society has changed with the passage of years, schooling has taken the place of education in shaping our children’s lives.
Unlike education, schooling has very clearly defined boundaries, and sets of rules and regulations which are designed to maintain it as a system of organisation, not an avenue for education. Where education exists to promote learning, schooling exists to perpetuate itself.
Schooling is managed by power-seeking bureaucrats who serve the government of the day. The government of the day serves the needs of the power-seeking politicians who construct it. The needs of the system take precedence over the needs of the people it is alleged to serve.
This story tells of naivety and idealism, of power and its abuse, of foolishness and courage, honour and deceit, and of the sometimes troubled path which leads to self-knowledge and self-acceptance.
However it also speaks, sometimes without words, of faith and love, trust and sacrifice, despair and hope, and of the unity which a family can achieve, as its members care for and support each other.
It’s the ravings of a cynical and disillusioned failure, self-serving and pathetic, or the realistic account of the experiences of real people who have passed beneath the leaning ladder of one man’s journey.
If you choose to read on, you will bring your own experiences to the story. You will say, “Yes, I know what he means by that. I remember when . . . “, or you will say “That’s rubbish. That wouldn’t have happened. He’s really stretching it there.”
Is it true? I can’t say. One man’s truth is another man’s fiction. We create our own truths, as we create our own realities. They are based upon our interpretations of our experiences. Other people have been involved in those events which have become my experiences, and their interpretations may be very different to mine. If you find truth in this story, then it’s true. If not, I hope that it will at least be a thought-provoking fiction.
Whatever you think, feel, or say, if you’re able to read this it’s probably because you’ve been to school. I hope that the story will have a personal meaning for you.
FOOLS OF THE TRADE.
|1. IN THE BEGINNING . . .||5|
|2. AND SO TO WORK …..||12|
|3. THE ROT SETS IN …||22|
|4. THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM . . .||32|
|5. TROUBLED WATERS . . .||40|
|6. STORMY SEAS . . .||41|
|8. CASTAWAY. . .||54|
|10. RESCUED, OR NOT.||64|
|11. AND LAST, BUT NOT LEAST . . .||74|
|12. FRYING PANS AND FIRES.||81|
|13. TURN UP THE HEAT . . .||86|
|14. NERO FIDDLES . . .||96|
|15. AND FIDDLES . . .||104|
|16. AND FIDDLES SOME MORE . . .||108|
|17. ROME BURNS.||112|
|18. ASHES TO ASHES||114|
|19. DUST TO DUST||124|
|20. DOWN AND DIRTY.||130|
|21. PHOENIX, OR FOWL ?||134|
|22. THE BEGINNING OF THE END.||147|
|23. THE END OF THE END.||157|
“Please sit down, Mrs Mayhew. Thank you very much for coming in.” Ron Brill was a gentleman and a gentle man, softly spoken and considerate. Joyce Mayhew was a little nervous, wondering why she had been asked to visit the Principal of her son’s school. Mr Brill put her at ease immediately.
“Jeremy has done extremely well in his half-yearly exams, and it has been decided that he will be awarded a small prize. As you know, there is an excursion to Port Kembla steelworks coming up in two weeks, and, with your approval, the school will be paying for Jeremy to attend.”
Joyce was grateful and delighted. She’d hadn’t been able to afford the cost of the excursion, and was sad that Jeremy would miss out. She wasn’t surprised, however.
Ron Brill had been the man who had arranged for her to “hire” from the school, at a very small cost, the textbooks which she hadn’t been able to afford to buy for Jeremy.
* * *
- IN THE BEGINNING . . .
Outside this place a gentle sea breeze touched the warm April morning and the world seemed content.
Inside the building, however, hung a pervasive gloom, undiminished by the banks of pale lights overhead.
Jeremy Mayhew and several hundred of his kind were assembled in the temple, to be addressed by The Most High.
Partially encircled by his cohorts, who sat shaking their heads in unison, offering inaudible expressions of sympathy and support, the black-robed figure stood before them on the stage.
Of portly stature, with rounded countenance glistening beneath the spotlights, he shuddered and shook, his entire body involved in the expression of grief. Tears streamed down his face as he spoke, between the sobs, of the hurt he had endured at the hands of the university students who had vilified him in their uni rag.
He was the Principal of a Teachers’ College, a person of position and great responsibility, and he should not be subjected to such inhumane and cowardly treatment at the hands of a bunch of social misfits. He would not be pilloried in this fashion! He would not be put upon in this manner! Had he not built a ten feet high brick wall around his house in order to secure his privacy against an evil world?
The swinging sixties were drawing to a close. Jeremy was celebrating his eighteenth birthday and had been a student at the Hunter Region Teachers’ College for about forty-five minutes. He sat among his fellow students, stunned, listening incredulously to these hysterical ravings. The speaker rambled on and on, repeating himself several times and, with each repetition, becoming more and more agitated. Behind and around him the lecturing staff, dressed in similar garb, drew serious expressions. Some had begun to nod vigorously at each other, or at no-one, as the tirade continued.
Suddenly, one of these, a woman of similar vintage to the speaker, leapt to her feet and, weeping profusely, threw her arms around the raving figure in centre-stage, exclaiming passionately “We know they’re lies! We love you Daniel!”, at which point others of her kind were seen to jump up, applauding wildly.
There were mixed reactions apparent in the audience. Jeremy and some of his fellows, obvious newcomers, shared expressions of amazement. The young woman on Jeremy’s left had just accompanied him from the administration office following enrolment. Now she turned towards him, incredulity etched upon her face. Jeremy met her open-mouthed gaze and then stared past her at the others in the audience. Some laughed derisively behind their hands. Still others seemed unperturbed, as if this were an everyday occurrence. Several who were seated in the front row stood, clapping and cheering ecstatically. Jeremy’s neighbour on the right continued to read his newspaper.
Nothing in this young man’s experience had prepared him for this, and he wondered what he had let himself in for. The position which he had relinquished, as junior clerk at Ebenezer Shylock and Company, Financial Consultants, suddenly looked more appealing than it previously had. The boss there had been an unscrupulous vagabond, but at least he hadn’t dribbled when he spoke.
It had been an inauspicious start to Jeremy’s career in the N.S.W. Teaching Service, and, in hindsight, perhaps he should have seen the writing on the wall and packed himself back off to Shylock’s, cap in hand, to beg for reinstatement to his former position as bootlicker and monocle-wiper.
Even Jeremy’s modest academic qualifications had seemed somewhat wasted in Shylock’s employ and he was looking for a more challenging enterprise which would require him to exercise his intellect, such as it was. The opportunities at Shylock’s were undoubtedly limited but there had been little apparent threat to his sanity. In this place Jeremy was not so sure that the retention of rationality was high on the list of priorities. That he would persevere, however, was predestined. Jeremy had wanted to teach since he was nine years old and he wasn’t about to be put off by a College Principal who cried before his assembled students. Besides, it had to improve, didn’t it?
At eighteen Mayhew might best be described as a peculiar mix. Physically underdeveloped, he stood tall and gangly, almost painfully thin, the product of an exceptionally fast metabolism. His black horn-rimmed spectacles completed the picture which gave rise to the detested nickname of his childhood – “Professor”.
He bore the inevitable emotional scars of the single-parented child and his insecurities had created him as an insular extrovert. Often the life of the party, with a quick wit and wry sense of humour, Jeremy was just as often introspective and detached. With his one absolute friend left behind in Sydney, Jeremy was spiritually alone.
Having arrived late at college, the legacy of a less than brilliant secondary school performance, Jeremy found himself facing the prospect of a practice teaching session two days after enrolment. Despite the natural fears created by the challenge of facing students, without the benefit of any training whatsoever, Jeremy’s most pressing fear stemmed from the fact that he did not own a suit-coat, and would thus need to appear inappropriately dressed for work.
“Mayhew, I’d like a word with you at the end of the lesson.” Mick Tehan was an exceptional teacher who had the universal respect of his twelve year-old charges. Jeremy was puzzled but not overly concerned by his teacher’s request. As he spoke it seemed to Jeremy that Mick was a little uncomfortable. “Mayhew, the Principal has aked me to speak with you about your school uniform.” Jeremy reddened immediately, the heat travelling instantly throughout his entire body. Surprisingly, in the midst of his humiliation, Jeremy felt sympathy for his teacher. “Your jumper is not suitable for wearing at school, son. You need to wear a school jumper, or at least one that’s grey.”
Struggling to contain his mixed emotions, Jeremy replied “This is the only jumper I have Sir. My mother made it, and the only wool she could get was red.”
Tehan, almost visibly angry, put his hand on the boy’s shoulder as they turned to walk from the classroom. “Well, you’ll have to do what’s best. I’ll let the Principal know that we have talked.” And, almost imperceptibly as they parted, “ Perhaps he will concern himself with more serious matters in future.”
It was easy to see why Highstone Primary School had never been regarded as the region’s centre of academic excellence, and the 5C-6C class which confronted Jeremy on his first day of his first practice was the least talented group in the school. They were the boss’ class and suffered as a result of his frequent absence attending to administrivia. A depressed academic level, coupled with a high percentage of non-English speaking students made this group interesting, to say the least. Jeremy managed to assert himself and establish control, and he was even able to enlist the aid of some of his students. One of these was Joe, who helped Jeremy on one occasion, to explain something to Maria.
Maria spoke only Italian, but she spoke incessantly to the girl next to her. At Jeremy’s request Joe asked Maria to stop talking. Joe looked Maria directly in the eye and, quite forcefully said “Maria, shut up!”.
The boy who liked to crawl across the floor at the back of the room refrained from that practice after Jeremy threatened to “pitch him out the bloody window” (they had a second storey room). Poor teaching practice, you’ll agree, but it worked.
Perhaps the most memorable feature of Jeremy’s introduction to practical teaching was the time spent with his youthful colleagues, clustered behind a wooden screen erected in the hallway for the purpose of hiding them from prying eyes as they consumed morning teas and lunches. Student teachers, you see, weren’t welcome in the staffroom with the real teachers.
Jeremy survived that experience with a surprising degree of comfort and enjoyment, however. His college supervisor, an ex-teacher no longer physically capable of operating in a classroom, was a decent fellow who gave valuable assistance and encouragement, and a positive report. Jeremy was on his way!
Having led a cloistered existence throughout his early and middle teens, Jeremy found college life to be a new world, with a smorgasbord of tantalising experiences tempting him from his studies. Morally weak, and lacking self-discipline, Jeremy joined the majority of his fellow students at the party which was Hunter Region Teachers’ College. Apart from the young ladies (the ratio of women to men in the student body was three to one), the most interesting people at Hunter were the lecturers. They were to remain in Mayhew’s memory as extremely capable, or incapable, individuals. None were mediocre.
Students always attended Brian Macarthur’s English sessions. Bespectacled and bearded, Brian was an awesome individual whose reputation struck fear into the hearts of all, but most particularly did he affect those who were inclined to be errant in their attendance at lectures. He was reputed to be utterly consistent in two things – he would fail any student who missed lectures without a satisfactory reason (as a result of this policy he was regarded as something of a radical among the lecturing staff), and he would never smile, before, during or after a lecture.
It was this quirk of Brian’s nature which ultimately made Jeremy something of a hero among his peers. Jeremy had long been convinced of his talent as a comedian, a view not always shared by those who spent time in his company. His few friends more often than not regarded him as a reasonably personable smart-arse who was given to making inappropriate comments at the most appropriate times.
It transpired that, during one of Brian’s excellent lectures, Jeremy was unable to resist the urge to utter some inane comment in response to a point which Brian was making. This was not unusual, but on this occasion Brian’s reaction to the interjection astounded first the group in the lecture room and ultimately the entire student body.
He fixed Jeremy pointedly with a withering gaze, which began to melt the lenses of the lecturer’s bi-focals, but just as Jeremy began to fear the imminent explosion, Brian’s lips began to twitch. The movement was barely discernible, beginning as more of a grimace at the corner of his mouth, but gaining strength by the second and spreading subtlely to the right until, for some three of four seconds, Brian smiled!
Inside the room time hesitated and a deafening silence prevailed, until Brian regained his composure and promptly continued the lecture as if nothing had happened. Students risked sidelong glances to see if others had also witnessed this momentous occurrence and, reassured by the stunned expressions of their fellows, they fell again to silent but agitated attendance.
At lecture’s end all waited for a respectable period of seconds while Brian disappeared down the corridor, and then the entire group erupted in discussion, each member trying to confirm that he had actually seen what he believed he had seen. Word spread quickly and in the lounge bar of the Republican Hotel that night, Jeremy drank many beers on the strength of his remarkable accomplishment.
Margaret Street always had full lecture rooms too. She was blessed with the dual attributes of talent and beauty. Her lectures both sounded and looked good. (Don’t think of this as sexist. Sexism was an unformed concept in the late sixties.) The lesser lights included The Doctor, who lectured in Health, and The Parson, who lectured everyone, all the time.
The Doctor was famous due to his habit of wearing the same decreasingly white shirt for many consecutive days before blessing it with water and washing powder. Some claimed that it was possible to judge the length of wearing in similar fashion to the way in which trees are aged. You simply needed to count the rings in the armpits. Most students attended The Doctor’s lectures for the pleasure of walking out half way through.
The Parson was regarded as a pompous windbag, an expert on everything, and invariably enthusiastic about his opinions. Jeremy had the misfortune to be supervised by him on a practice teaching session and it was he who provided Jeremy with a preview of the realities of the school system, although Jeremy didn’t know this at the time.
Jeremy had been unable to attend his last day of practice due to illness. It was alcohol-induced and self-inflicted, true, but it was still an illness which sent him to bed for three days. Being a courageous and considerate young man, Jeremy had left his sick-bed to walk the two kilometres to the supermarket where his then girlfriend was working part-time, so that he could tell her that their planned evening out would have to be cancelled. She gave him no sympathy and he deserved none.
Upon his return to college on the Monday following, Jeremy was summoned to The Parson’s office. The Parson had seen Jeremy walking to the supermarket on the previous Friday afternoon when he was supposed to be attending his practice school. In his view, Mayhew had obviously taken the day off, and must therefore be punished for this. Jeremy’s explanation carried no weight at all, and instead of being awarded a Distinction for his teaching practice period, he would receive a Pass only. Jeremy offered him a mental double-digit salute, thanked The Parson warmly and left the office. Strangely enough he hadn’t been at all surprised.
Somehow Jeremy managed to satisfy the requirements of the college, due primarily to some glowing reports on his practice teaching sessions and the kindness of his psychology lecturer, an unfortunate man whose stutter was so severe that he could only deliver twenty minutes of each lecture in a forty minute period. He was a magnanimous gentleman who allowed Jeremy several final attempts at one exam which he had missed on a couple of occasions because there had been particularly good surf pouring through on the beach at Jeremy’s back door.
Jeremy returned to his extremely humble western Sydney home, barely qualified in the theory but, given his very limited experience, surprisingly proficient in the practice of teaching, and able to classify himself as a surfer.
His two year sojourn in the Hunter region had at least allowed Jeremy to mature emotionally, if only a little, and had afforded him a look at a life which Jeremy had not imagined could exist for him. He had also gained height and bulk, which ensured that he presented as a much more imposing physical presence. The experiences which he had had, and the independence and freedom of thought which they encouraged in Jeremy, were to significantly alter the course of his entire life. Jeremy Mayhew had become, I must ask you to accept, a teacher committed to doing his absolute best for his students.
- AND SO TO WORK …..
The western suburbs of Sydney had once centred upon Ashfield and extended all the way to Auburn. Parramatta was, at that time, a developing city in its own right, as was Liverpool, a little to the south. Housing for low income earners, single-parent families and the socially disadvantaged was in short supply.
Governments, in their boundless wisdom, had, in the interests of preserving the public purse, elected to mimic a system of public housing already failing miserably overseas. Economic costs may readily be measured and balanced and expenditure can be justified in material terms but social costs are often intangible, practically immeasurable and, where governments are concerned, ultimately become someone else’s problem, perhaps as soon as the next election.
Sydney’s expanding west was to act as the reservoir for those unfortunate enough to be unwilling to, unable to, or incapable of pursuing the Australian dream. Huge tracts of land were laid bare and instant suburbs appeared from the dust.
Into these modern bungalows traipsed an assortment of hard-working, committed family people, who hadn’t been blessed with silver spoons, appropriate education or high levels of natural academic ability. They saw public housing as a means to an end – their own slice of the Australian privilege pie.
They were accompanied by those victims of society, the genuinely underprivileged, to whom a house with a yard was a blessing from the Almighty – good people with strong moral values, who weren’t afraid of hard work but who, for a multitude of reasons, but commonly through unemployment, educational disadvantage, or the breakdown of marriages, had been unable to establish their independence in society.
Mayhew could readily identify with them, having spent the greater part of his life in a Housing Commission home, and knowing that, for some reason, he had been selected as the recipient of a higher than average level of ability, and that this was all that separated him from those who were destined to remain dependent upon public housing forever. His academic ability presented a life-line to Jeremy. It sometimes dangled, seemingly, just out of reach, but it was always there.
And then there were the bludgers, those to whom society allegedly owed a living. The scum of society who would think nothing of stealing from a neighbour, using and abusing the social services system, the members of their own families and each other. Alcohol and other substance abuse, partner-bashing and child abuse were features of their lifestyle. These were they who could not or would not learn, who had no self-respect, no knowledge of where to seek it, or even of its importance.
These, thankfully represented a very small group of public housing families, but this remarkably stupid concept of social engineering herded together in poorly planned and serviced, and often geographically isolated communities, thousands of individuals who shared common misfortunes and, all too often, strong negative feelings towards society.
The government did, however, provide schools – in some cases beautifully designed and built – and staffed by the youngest and least experienced teachers in the state. Mayhew was one of hundreds of “first-year-outs” whose first real teaching experiences were gained in the Lalor Park, Mt Druitt and Green Valley districts in the far west and south-west of Sydney.
Jeremy was comparatively fortunate. He found himself in one of the better managed schools, with an exceptionally talented principal, and a more positive social environment than could be found in schools just two kilometres away. Add to this the fact that Jeremy was now a larger than average male with a strong voice and intimidating manner, and he was probably going to experience fewer problems than most in his dealings with students and the community.
Bob Cartwright was also a big man. A compassionate and dedicated principal, Bob had established Western Primary School and set in place a positive tone which focused upon bringing out the best in kids and in the community. He also cared for his staff, and they for him. Bob had achieved acceptance in the community through his natural habit of treating all people with respect, and through his instinctive belief that everyone had a right to dignity. Although renowned for his fairness and for his commitment to children, Bob would not take a backward step on a matter of principle and would tolerate little where unacceptable behaviour was concerned. Parents and students both acknowledged this.
Mayhew was an accidental witness to a demonstration of the parental support which Bob engendered as one day he waited outside Bob’s office to speak with him. One of the senior students had been creating problems both inside and outside the classroom. A thug and bully, Wayne had been terrorising younger students and appeals to his better nature had failed to alter his behaviour. Bob had invited Wayne’s father to the school to discuss the situation with him and the interview was being conducted as Jeremy waited.
Bob sat behind his desk, Mr Jenks and the malevolent Wayne facing him from the opposite side. Almost a head taller and much heavier than Bob, Mr Jenks listened to Bob’s quiet explanation, becoming as he did so, increasingly agitated. Wayne sat, arms folded across his chest, sneering confidently, assured of his father’s protection.
Suddenly father turned upon son, demanding to know if the accusations were true. Confronted and confused, the sneer vanishing in an instant, Wayne attempted to mumble some ill-considered justification of his actions and ultimately admitted that he was guilty as charged.
Mr Jenks, already on his feet, took his son by the shoulders, lifted him from the chair in which he had been slouching, and propelled him forcibly across the room. Wayne’s motion halted as he met the office wall and he stood there blubbering.
In conversation with Bob later, Jeremy agreed that while this method of conflict resolution could not be condoned, there were times when it was expedient and effective to fight fire with fire. They had no problems with Wayne from that day forth.
Western was growing and it was apparent that, according to his “paper credentials”, the school would soon be beyond Bob’s capacity to control, so it was necessary that Bob should attain the next step on the promotions’ ladder as soon as possible, thereby giving himself some chance of retaining his position as Principal of the school.
Several other teachers were also seeking promotion and there began to occur a phenomenon with which Mayhew was to become only too familiar – the “inspection process”. Already working hard and achieving good results, most teachers went into overdrive, the school becoming a hive of activity. The principle of the operation seemed to be “if it looks good, do it!”, a concept necessarily embraced by all schools which were up for assessment.
The efforts of the staff, however, were to no avail. A man, subsequently identified as The Inspector, came to visit and assess. Clad in an impeccably tailored grey suit, not a white hair out of place, and possessing the personal appeal of a dead mullet, he didn’t know Bob, or any of them, and he couldn’t have had enough time to judge their achievements, but he said they weren’t good enough anyway.
Not only did he find that the school was below par, The Inspector, in his report, questioned Bob’s dedication.
In the coming weeks, Bob disintegrated before the eyes of his people. His treatment of Jeremy and a fellow “first-year-out”, in one instance served as a measure of his suffering.
The two young teachers had taken students to swimming school over a fortnight period and assessments for the awarding of certificates had been conducted. Bob had received a complaint from parents who felt that their child had been disadvantaged by being allowed to have a swim before doing the test.
Under normal circumstances Bob would have checked out the complaint in a calm and rational manner and then taken whatever action he considered necessary. In his distracted state, however, rationality went out the window. He called Jeremy and Peter into the office and, ashen-faced and shaking, accused them of being totally irresponsible in allowing the swimming instructors to give the kids a swim before doing the test. The pair stood there dumbfounded, not sure of how they should deal with the situation.
When Bob had calmed a little, they explained what had happened, as they understood it, and they were eventually dismissed, like naughty schoolboys, from the office.
It wasn’t until his health had begun to fail, and even the dynamic quality of his personality had begun to fade, that Bob could be persuaded to appeal the inspector’s judgement. Those others who had sought promotion and been found wanting also decided to appeal. The muck really hit the fan then!
The Education Department sent out one of the big guns – a Deputy Regional Director, or something of that kind – to sort out the mess. He conducted his investigation and, when he had finished, presided at a staff meeting. He asked the staff to tell him how they felt, and, being young, still somewhat naive, and more than a little bit angry still, Mayhew told the man what he thought. As Jeremy’s more experienced colleagues cringed at the foolishness of his actions, the investigator listened quietly. He made no comment, and Jeremy had no way of knowing what effect his statement had had upon the man.
The outcome was positive in one sense. Bob was found to be worthy of his promotion after all and The Inspector was made to look the fool which he undoubtedly was. It was, though, almost an exercise in futility, since Bob lost his position at Western Primary School anyway. He was replaced by a less-than-competent individual who, at an earlier point in time, had been able to convince another less-than competent Inspector, to approve his promotion, and had thereby gained seniority over Bob. The “Principal-elect” did nothing to endear himself to staff or community members by coming to “visit” even before the ink was dry on Bob’s second, favourable report. This was to be a mere taste of the ham-fisted and thoughtless ad hoc management system under which the new boss operated.
Franklin A. Gordon’s assumption of the leadership of Western was made under acrimonious circumstances, which he did little or nothing to ameliorate. It is likely that Frank was so socially inept that he wasn’t even aware of the depth of negative feeling which surrounded him. A blustering fool with the subtlety of a sledgehammer and the finesse of a runaway steamroller, Frank, for the next five years, blundered from one personnel or management disaster to the next. He reminded Jeremy of an overly large and playful Labrador puppy, who went about destroying all around him, but always in the best of good humours. A senior member of staff, given to alliterative eloquence, described him as a “great galumphing galoot”, and the description always seemed most apt.
Frank was possessed of two great talents. He was able to make the most appalling faux pas in any setting, social or professional, and he was utterly brilliant when it came to losing important documents.
Frank demanded that he be addressed as Mr. Gordon at all times by all members of staff. (The accepted norm during that period of history, was to refrain from calling the boss, or other teachers for that matter, by their christian names in the presence of students. This rather peculiar practice is fortunately no longer fashionable.)
However, in order that he might be seen as an egalitarian leader, “one of the boys” rather than one above them, Frank encouraged the wives and husbands of staff members to call him Frank. This resulted in the ludicrous situation, particularly on social occasions, where a teacher’s wife was expected to call him Frank but the teacher was required to call him Mr. Gordon! This rather screwy logic was utterly typical of the animal.
Frank’s ability to lose documents was legendary. Thanks to the schools’ grapevine he was famous throughout the school district as the man who could lose a piece of paper within seconds of receiving it, but in fact it was probably his filing system which was at fault.
It was Frank’s practice to collect and assemble all important paper upon his desk in disorderly piles awaiting his attention. Because he was so often terribly busy having chats with the clerical staff, attending conferences and organising morning tea, he was invariably late in attending to his papers.
Often an important visitor, such as an Inspector, would arrive and Frank would go into panic mode, scooping all of the paper on his desk into a cardboard box, and hiding it. After the visit Frank would again be thrown into the hurly-burly of the conference circus and he would forget where he had hidden the last cardboard box.
You might imagine the conflict which he generated when Frank demanded that three teachers rewrite their students’ final school reports for the year because he had lost those which they had already given to him for his signature!
Despite his rather unsavoury introduction to the promotion process, Jeremy Mayhew, too, eventually became sufficiently convinced of his own prowess as an educator to desire to improve his station in professional life, to establish his authority, to demonstrate for all the world his superiority as a classroom practitioner. Mayhew applied for inspection.
It was one year in the mid-seventies and Jeremy had not long been married. During the first four months of that year he barely spoke to his long-suffering wife. He frequently worked for twelve to fifteen hours a day, and often lost entire weekends to a mountain of paper.