Friday 15 December 2017

Diary of a schoolteacher: How a chess match made me and my students mates

E Grade

'Well, lads," I called over my shoulder while motoring along the highway, "we're going to see how the other half lives!"

It was a couple years ago and for some reason the deputy principal, that under-qualified but overworked flunkey, had designated me chess teacher.

All those Tuesday lunch breaks when I had conveniently doubled-up corridor duty with chess class had set us on the road to round one of the ESB Chess Competition.

Yes, the ESB; they're not just all about bills and blokes eating breakfast rolls while reading the Daily Star in a van all morning. They also play their part promoting the intellectual and noble game of chess.

Anyway, the ESB were running an inter-schools tournament and plain old St Wayne's was pitched against the crenellated aristocracy of Sterling Park, my name for a well-known posh school that produces barristers, politicians and engineers from the sons of barristers, politicians and engineers.

I had four fantastic young men, drawn from third and fifth year, all enthusiastic and chatting away unreservedly with me on the two-hour trip to the mighty Sterling Park.

Needless to say, my team were drawn from the ranks of tilers, odd-job men and the unemployed, nothing of which meant that they weren't decent chess players.

Eventually we arrived at the gates of the castle and its glorious grounds, the driveway stretching and turning towards the castle. I stopped the car so they could look, expecting to hear groans of resentment.

But no, there was nothing of the sort -- they jumped out of the car, cooing with appreciation, Brian whipping out his camera and shooting the first of at least a hundred photos that day.

As we drove the regulation 20mph up the driveway and the grey mass of the castle loomed before us, all I could hear was, "Cool! I'd love to go to school here".

Their chess teacher was waiting with his four players, seeded from one to four, and after we had shaken hands and made introductions, the boys took up position behind the chess boards.

Now, I'm rubbish at chess and I don't know any of the basic opening moves -- I regularly get beaten by my 10-year-old son -- and it was soon evident that although I had photocopied the first five pages of my grandfather's dust-encrusted chess book and given it to my players, that they had treated them as they would homework. They never looked at them.

Within 10 minutes the opposition teacher gave me a look laden with contempt. "Why didn't you teach them a few basic opening moves?" Stupidly I merely replied, "I forgot!" Game over.

Still, soon we were all chatting and the one-sided matches were forgotten. For my fellows it had been a great day. They showed me that the idea of a 'comfort zone' for them is nonsense.

Irish Independent

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