Staff only: Why we're just moving targets for angry kids
In other countries if a kid doesn't manage a strictly prescribed decent average across his yearly exams then he doesn't move on to the next year. He stays back and does the year again. In Irish schools a pupil can learn as little as he or she likes.
He can disrupt the learning of other kids to his heart's content and we not only allow this but we facilitate it and, before you know it, he and the rest of the gang are parading around the school hall in their best designer gear on graduation night carrying a huge drawing of a pencil and other hackneyed symbols of how wonderful their years in school have been.
What do teachers make of this? They know that sometimes they're little better than the slaves of a handful of kids who thrive on negative behaviour like worms in a compost heap.
You could ask my colleague Mr Finnegan -- king of the lower ability classes. The other day Finnegan is teaching sixth years. He's showing them an episode of Band of Brothers to give them an idea of what World War Two was like. Four of the Irish kids, two boys and two girls, haven't turned up but he doesn't have time to hunt them down, and besides, he knows he's responsible for the kids that are there. Ten minutes into class the missing four saunter into class reeking of cigarette smoke.
Keeping the whole point of education in mind, Finn decides to let the DVD run and tells them to sit quietly at the back. They go to the back all right, but start chatting at the top of their voices and playing music off their mobile phones.
Now Finnegan is forced to pause the video and abandon the DVD. He tells them to be quiet and whoever has the phone, to switch it off as they are forbidden. Their leader, Conor Gurrierham, points at the TV screen and declares the programme to be 'shite' and that Finnegan is just trying to get away with not having to teach. Finnegan orders him to go to the deputy principal but little Gurrierham says, 'no, you go -- sure you're not a f-ing proper teacher anyway'.
Eventually Finnegan meets up with Mr Eldritch, the principal, and hands him a written report.
Eldritch snorts and says: "This isn't an easy job, you know. I didn't get to be where I am without knowing how to handle people. Maybe you should go on an inservice." This is five years into tolerating Gurrierham's vicious disruption of afternoon classes (he takes tranquilisers in the morning but they wear off).
Although highly civilised, experienced and educated, Finnegan realises yet again that his role is to be a moving target for angry kids like Gurrierham (not his real name) arriving in our schools with behavioural problems.
And we end this story at the graduation ceremony as Mr Eldritch shakes Conor's hand, his education complete, with not even a glance at Finnegan.