Inspections were a part of my job, but the part I enjoyed least. At least when I was on home ground, inspecting mathematics in primary and middle schools, I felt I had something to offer and didn’t feel too much of a fraud. Even then, I couldn’t avoid the fact that however nice I tried to be I was still putting enormous stress on the poor teacher. One lady found herself so frazzled that the lesson quickly became a disaster, and in desperation she asked me to take over! Fortunately, the problem was simply that the strain had caused her to overlook a single step in the lesson and I could do so easily, but she was an experienced and capable teacher and it would never have happened if I hadn’t been there in the first place.
Another teacher demonstrated the stress even more dramatically. In a debrief she suddenly mumbled “I’m sorry, I think I’m going to be sick”, and was. (I sent her some flowers but decided against asking for a testimonial to my inspecting rigour.)
I was glad the request to take over the lesson only happened on the one occasion, because on many occasions I felt completely out of my depth. There was the school for teenagers with behavioural problems. I cried all the way home thinking of the poor young woman, with just a few months of teaching behind her, expected to teach Romeo and Juliet to a class of 15-year-old boys in an EBD school. Even more searing was the week I spent in a Special School which took children all the way up the scale to where you couldn’t really be sure the child actually had any significant level of awareness. That was the first time I realised that we were actually lucky that our first child, who was born with severe brain trauma, died soon after she was born. I spent just a week in both these schools, and all the others, but those who worked in them had to face their problems every single day.
The story I tell most often is inspecting a secondary school. I joined a Y9 class at the start of their lesson and immediately noticed a boy abusing his support teacher. Within a couple of minutes she left the room in tears, and he turned his attention to the teacher and subjected him to a similar load of invective. The teacher in turn decided he needed to spend a couple of minutes in the stock cupboard. The pupil looked around for another victim and his eyes lit upon me, sitting inoffensively in the corner. He strode up to me. “What I wanna know”, he snarled, “is how long you and your inspectin’ mates are goin’ to be ‘ere”. “Why’s that, Wayne?”, I smiled politely. “So I can stop ‘avin’ to be on my best bloody behaviour ALL THE BLOODY TIME!”