Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

The last word

Last word

It is claimed that, when on holiday, doctors fear they will be required to provide medical assistance in an emergency. I suggest that we leaders find it equally difficult to leave our jobs behind, but our anguish is associated with travel arrangements and guides who deliver (or not) lessons on a range of topical features.

During one school holiday I was travelling with my friend (assistant head, with responsibility for lesson observations) to Cairo on a coach.

As part of the tour, the guide, Marwa - who had told us at great length that she possessed degrees in history - was very keen to explain the complete Pharaoh dynasties.

As the coach covered the miles, Marwa swayed about holding up one visual aid after another pointing to tiny features that could hardly be seen by the naked eye.

My friend huffed, "Has nobody taught her visual aids should be large enough to be seen by all the class?" It was said in her usual sotto voce reserved for my ear as I'm entering assembly.

The coach lulled me to sleep but when I woke Marwa had only progressed to the next dynastic reign. Due to the perpetual swinging and banging of the loo door immediately in front of us, rather than the gripping historical presentation, my friend had remained awake.

She muttered that if this were a lesson observation, Marwa would have several areas for 'further development'. "She hasn't improved her delivery, no pace and she does not project her voice to the back of the coach," concluded my friend.

When we reached Cairo, we followed Marwa, holding her baton aloft, until we reached King Tutankhamen's tomb and treasures.

As we walked, I noticed several small children crawling over and under the tombs completely oblivious to their historic significance.

As Marwa launched into her presentation, another group gathered next to us with their guide who began to speak in heavy, emphatic German.

Marwa's presentation became louder in an attempt to compete with the Germans and to hold our attention. I exchanged glances with my friend who muttered, "She needs to improve her group work skills, stop those people wandering off, and lower her voice to gain our attention."

I nodded and noticed the children using the end of a tomb as a slide.

The following day Marwa told us that we should have been viewing several pyramids but only number three was available today. (Do they move?) One bright spark suggested number three pyramid needed re-pointing - we sighed that long suffering sign that all teachers have in their repertoire of involuntary reactions.

The tourist police stood about like year 10 boys on work experience. They called to us, "Takey my picture - only £5 to you" - we sighed again. Then the police sergeant rode up on his spitting camel and remonstrated with his charges; it was reminiscent of lunch duty.

We wondered if we should have done a risk assessment for this visit?

The next day, having sat by the loo door for the duration of another coach journey, we arrived to view the Sphinx. Immediately we had items pressed at us by the 'looky, looky men'.

One held up what seemed to be two copulating camels and called out 'Looky - from Asda - buy one - get one free'. We exchanged looks - this really was resembling teaching year 10 on a Friday afternoon.

As we began to move away, the fellow asked, "You from Yorkshire?" We shook our heads. "You bugger off then." My friend bristled. "Does he know about discrimination?" she asked in her tone that usually precedes a 'serious talk' to a recalcitrant pupil.

Back on the coach we went. Marwa began the next journey with her statement of aims: we were going to stop at a papyrus factory where she suggested we bought goods from the visitors' shop, adding, "My uncle Mohammed does it good."

She began one of her extensive explanations about the properties of papyrus when the toilet door suddenly flung open. One of our younger travelling companions called urgently down the coach, "Mummy, quick - there's no toilet paper."

Like hysterical girls, my friend and I tried to hide our bursts of laughter. We spluttered the mantra that is a ticklist before all visits - sick bags, black bin bags for rubbish, first aid box and toilet roll.

We might have been in Egypt but this was just another school trip.

Gill Pyatt is head of Barnwood Park School in Gloucester.

The Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you would like to share your humorous observations of school life, please email Sara Gadzik at leader@ascl.org.uk We do offer a modest honorarium.

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