Miss Rabbage, who taught me most of what I know, would have pulled out her neatly-groomed grey hair if she were around to watch my efforts on Tuesday mornings.
Teacher training for clergy in the 1980s was a grand total of five hours in the classroom, in the course of one week, in the third year of theological college. It hardly taught us anything; except to realise how bad we were in dealing with children.
The class teacher is a brilliant, shrewd professional who is less than half of my age and who probably cringes listening to me. Her class are wonderful.
Their spelling is eccentric; the handwriting sometimes difficult; ink blobs and smudges are frequent; work might be in pen or in pencil, written in blue or black, or pink or red, or green or brown, or whatever colour might come to hand. The answers are sometimes pertinent to the questions; sometimes they are loosely connected with the matter at hand; sometimes they are an excursus upon whatever thought that comes along, though it may bear little relation to anything being discussed.
‘Religious Education’ can be a very loose term when left in the hands of an amateur who is very easily sidetracked from what it was that he had planned to talk about. ‘Meaning of life and various ancillary questions’ might be a more apt description of the classes some weeks.
Mercifully, there is an excellent text book which provides some direction to conversations and which keeps the lesson rooted in the teaching of the best of all teachers. It provides questions and raises thoughts and suggests topics which allow one to sit on a desk in the middle of the classroom and ask, “What do we think about this?” The responses, oral and written are fascinating; sometimes hilarious, sometimes tear jerking.
One of the boys was giving a thoughtful response to one of the questions, when two girls called to him, “Ah, would you stop being so sensitive?”
They giggled as he frowned at them.
“Do they give you a hard time?” I asked.
“No”, he said, “not usually”, as he smiled across at them.
“Let’s move on”, I said. There was plenty of time at break for eleven year old flirtations.
Last week’s questions related to dignity and self-worth and respect for others. Pupils were asked to define themselves.
“If you were a food, what would you be?” asked one question.
“A doughnut,” said one answer, “because I am yummy, but there is something missing in the middle”.
Taking the answer seriously, initially, I suddenly realised that the age long tradition of winding up one’s teacher is alive and well.
They are the happiest group of kids I have ever met and sat marking their exercise books on a Monday evening, I wonder where life goes wrong. Where do we become serious and lose the laughter, and the honesty, of being eleven years old?
Were I eleven again, I think I should love to be amongst their number.