The smell of the freshly painted walls outside the class room weaseled its way up into my nostrils and tickled a distant blackboard screeching memory of other corridors in Christian brothers schools now calling me from the distant past. This was a new corridor, one of those hexagonal extremities that prevents students from seeing their disgruntled principal approaching from a distance. These halls were built as part of a long fought fundraising drive that saw many students come and go before tasting the fruits of their labour…the cake sales and Christmas fairs with mulled wine and sandwiches. Every effort made to sell tickets for unwanted prizes and guessing games to calculate how many M & M’s are really in the jar. If wall Street took a leaf from “The Principals Guide to Raising Money for Destitute Schools”, then the world would be a more stable place. These schools were leftovers from the regime of the Christian brothers whose campaign to educate the masses and build stately schools to accommodate us pupils was successful in its initial mission. These marble halled schools with herring bone wooden floors in the class room were built to last and each one that they built were monuments to the 1960’s dream but the structures that they built were mundane, impersonal places that reminded you of state prisons with only one goal…..to process each student as well as they could!!!
Sitting outside my child’s classroom waiting to be called for the yearly PT meeting, that school smell in my mind, I wondered were my experiences completely different to my children’s. I entered Greenmount School in 1981 and was thrown amongst the scariest bunch of vagabonds you could imagine. Many of them later ended up in prison or at the end of a rope….some I still see selling drugs on street corners and others are just lost in the echelons of school classmates that will never be seen again…maybe in a supermarket aisle or in a queue of some sort our eyes may meet but all that would be given is a quick nod and a wink . I always knew that our paths would never cross again somehow. I was lucky that I never really socialized with my fellow pupils outside of school. This self imposed apartheid probably saved me from a listless life of drugs, alcohol and probably a stretch in prison. That’s how life for the pupils in this school was pre-programmed. There were some who escaped to better climes but they were the exception to the rule.
Maybe the pupils were a product of the times….a time when there was no employment and little prospects. As a young boy I was one of the privileged few whose father had a good solid job that kept us in a reasonable standard of living. |Some of the boys in my class had nothing….Greenmount was one of the few schools that gave out buns and cocoa to the students during the morning break. At the time I thought this a treat but now looking back it must have been breakfast for some of the poor souls walking through those gates. A freshly iced bun and a hot cup of cocoa for all. I still remember the smell that wafted from the small cocoa house each morning. The presentation brothers knew all too well that hunger was an all too common factor for many children going to school back then.
Now my moment had come to face the modern day teachers who were to mould my young children. Gone are the flowing robes of the brothers and the cracked canes with which they stored away in order to lash the fresh hands of young children. Now there is a different kind of teacher in the world or is there? I am always weary of the complacency of parents when it comes to the teaching of our children. They may be only in their primary years at school but these are the formative years that shape their minds. It certainly was the case for me and surely it must be for them also…..they are like little sponges that need to be retrieved from the depths of the oceans and carefully lifted to the surface. These thoughts run through my head as I wait to be called. This is my first real meeting with any of their teachers for any real length of time. It’s like one of those speed dating events except you are discussing your children’s progress in school instead of you!! I’m nervous….in a kind of helpless “What will I say to the teacher?” kind of way!!
I have a chance to admire the seasonal pictures of Halloween pumpkins on the walls…one for every pupil in the class…all laid out for all the parents to see…the same picture coloured in with the same colours of black and orange….all of them mimicking each other. Not one of the pumpkins was painted a different colour or variation of the same!! So much for encouraging the individual in the class…..but who is going to shirk the norm in the class…..there was always one in the early 80’s…no shortage of unique characters!!! The new school buildings remind me of the fear I had as a child…of teachers…of bullies…of missed homework…of being late for class…the trite fears of a child but very real at the time. These fears will always remain the same for any child and will never change no matter what decade you are in. Now I have that similar fear as I sit on the cushioned seat outside the classroom. I listen to the mumbled chatter of the other parent ahead of me and the echos of footsteps and conversation rebound around the corridors of the school. I try to think of some intelligent questions to ask the teacher but none come to mind as I stare at a picture of some parrots with a multitude of colours and a sign to indicate which teacher and which classroom to go to next if you have more than one child in the school. Even now they are controlling your next move…all the preparation for PT Day is on the walls and the clean floors with freshly painted walls is designed to give you a sense of a fresh school that is in its infancy. Then I realize that the teachers have total control over my children….I know that I have an input but they are the official teacher and from now until the end of their school days their fate is in their hands. I have only a minor input into how it goes from here……this thought chills me and makes me uneasy. While I fidget in my chair, the door opens and the previous parent walks out and I am warmly welcomed into the classroom!