Mr McLaughlin – from Doberman in class to a puppy dogat home
Every school, if it's lucky, has a Mr McLaughlin. In our place he is probably the last we will ever see of this breed; a teacher whose very presence in a classroom or appearance on the corridor will inspire fear and respect in an otherwise insane group of kids.
It's easy to tell if they have just had class with the great man, as they troop into my room, brows furrowed and knit after the tension of 40 minutes spent in his company.
Here a girl puts her head down on the desk complaining about a headache. There a boy is wiping away a tear and now someone else is begging me to give them a free class. Fantastic.
Of course I remind them that there is no such thing as a free class, as long as I have to be in the same room as them, adding a 'Get your books out now!'
Pass up the chance to honour Mr McLaughlin's iron discipline? No way. I strike while the iron is hot, making a swoop on homework while they're still reeling. Usually they'll start drinking from Coke bottles and texting as soon as my back's turned looking at somebody else's work, but not while the McLaughlin effect is still working its magic.
It's simply a matter of taking advantage of those teachers who are motivated enough to be nasty (or 'focused' if you prefer) for the entire school year instead of the customary first week in September, by the end of which you just get too tired of being in a bad mood with them and resort to being yourself.
I've stood outside a classroom savouring the moment when Mr McLaughlin snaps at his charges like a Doberman, followed by that deep Zen-like silence. I admit it; I'm afraid of him, too.
At least I was afraid of him until the principal asked me to drop a book up to Mr McLaughlin's house after school the other day.
Ringing at the front door brings on the most chaotic sound of barking and as my colleague opens it, I'm bowled over by two fat collies and a Jack Russell.
Adding his voice to this warmest of welcomes, Mr McLaughlin ushers me in, the three dogs trotting happily after him, still making a deafening clamour.
Soon, I'm sitting there enjoying coffee and cake. My host, meanwhile, is all, 'Who's a good doggie, nice doggie, oh yeah. Daddy got steak for you tonight.'
Naturally enough, I say something about the school but I'm just a couple of words in and he's chuckling to himself.
'Did you see that? Poochie just broke wind! He's a little divil, so he is ... ' and off he goes gushing lovingly.
As I leave the house amid the renewed deafening barking and the soothing chuckles of my colleague, I'm full of admiration for this teacher who has had the genius to split his personality into the grim tyrant running class with deadly efficiency and a gentle and hospitable dog-crazy homemaker.