Tuesday 28 March 2017

Staff Only: The old fogey who's earned his retirement party

E Grade

Christmas time turned out to be the season of retirement this year, as one of our longest serving teachers decided to throw in the towel before the taxman got his hands on his lump sum.

If any of the kids should have threatened him with 'you're history', he would probably have nodded in agreement as old Martin was actually a teacher of that august subject.

We'll all be sorry to see him go, but having first stepped up to the chalkface back in the late 1960s, lately he had seemed to be a character out of the history book itself. Navy blue slacks and the hush puppy shoes combined with the beard and black-rimmed glasses all amounted to an uncannily extemporaneous image of the male Irish educator.

In spite of having graduated in an era when 'Puff the Magic Dragon' was a hit single, he was still a fine teacher in the era of songs of such delicate subtlety as 'Horny' and 'Smack My Bitch Up'.

Sure, as we all know, kids are far less respectful these days and lots of them come to school having inhaled a few too many puffs from the magic dragon, and yes, plenty of them have threatened to kill Martin over the last few years, but he never seemed to even raise his voice to them, let alone wage war on them until eventually they had been punished to his satisfaction.

"What's the point," he'd ask when I expressed amazement at his patience, "they can't help it and you and I know they don't mean it." He was giving me undue credit there as I have been known to drool like a psychopath at the thought of rough justice.

There I am, snarling like Dirty Harry (feel lucky, pupil? Well do ya?) seizing Dean O'Thugarty's school journal, pen cocked to write a demand that he be suspended ASAP. I'll sign it off with a flourish and eject him from my class with a "don't come back again". I know that bit is highly unlikely, as like Carlsberg, we don't do expulsions, but I do enjoy the odd coup de grace.

Not so, wise old Martin. He just told them to stop being so silly and sit quietly while he wrote notes on the board. When they had taken them down he'd explain everything in a way that made you see the 'story' bit in history.

That 's why I forgave them all, all the old fogeys, when I walked into Martin's retirement do in the school hall to the sound of Foster and Allen, Margot and someone called Larry Cunningham. I thought music like that had been banned after the Good Friday Agreement. That's why I danced with Martin and his contemporaries to all those dodgy traditional songs.

And if Martin's replacement is only half as skilled at getting kids interested in the Normans, the plantations and on to Bloody Sunday, then he or she will one day earn their own party with terrible music.

Irish Independent

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