Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – Tactics by Ken Dunn

I spent the better part of fifteen years in secondary education and so I’ve always wondered what the comparable educational system is like in the TRNC. One of these days I’ll get round to that. My only experience of it so far is noticing school kids wandering around at all times of the day. Most of this, I presume, is due to the more agreeable climate, it being a tad warmer here than in the UK. They seem to begin the school day earlier and consequently end in the early afternoon. Nothing wrong with that I suppose but there doesn’t appear to be the rowdiness of ‘attitude’ found in the UK. I might be well wrong about that.

On the other hand the university students over here are much more ‘lively’ and there’s plenty of them. And are there really seven universities over here? That’s quite a number for such a relatively small country. I have heard that these students are the progeny of well to do parents, dropouts from other countries where entry into a university has been denied. A bundle of notes has helped their entry to unis over here. Now, I know that’s rumour and not necessarily fact but they do have ‘attitude’ and in particular with regard to motorcars.

A few years ago they were regarded with trepidation, easily spotted as their vehicles were invariably of the go faster BMW/Merc/Porche variety and the number plates were white with blue letters. Once seen they were to be avoided at all costs as their driving skills were virtually non-existent. Cypriot drivers were slow and careful compared to that lot.

But then kids are kids the world over and during my time teaching, as all teachers do, I developed a kind of psychology to deal with the worst offenders. Laughter is a powerful tool for discipline. A stroppy child does not like being laughed at when he, or she, has expected an angry or shouted response. I worked primarily in the private, or rather independent, sector and, contrary to common belief, kids can be just as devious, evil and downright unpleasant as in the state sector.

However, the most difficult aspect of secondary teaching was always being able to deal with the ‘administrators’ who rarely understood the needs of everyday education. Independent schools usually employ ex-forces personnel as ‘Bursars’ who handle all things organisationally and financial. The independent sector has had this kind of ‘infestation’ for years. They are often irritating, petulant martinets, expecting to be saluted or at least respected for their previous rank, which may have been captain, major or even colonel.

I had to deal with a particularly prickly character, a retired air force captain who had never seen the inside of an aircraft but had spent his whole career flying a desk. Captain Wick, an unfortunate surname, always insisted on using his former ‘title’, but was known to all of us as ‘The Prick’ and he was, besides getting on everyone’s ‘wick’. Amongst his several tasks he checked all orders and the cost, setting this against any departmental budget. This is where another form of psychology had to be applied when ‘negotiating’ with him.

I was fortunate enough to have a department budget which gave me the opportunity to renew, replace and generally improve the equipment needed for the subject, Design and Technology or, in old money, ‘Woodwork, Metalwork and Technical Drawing’ as many people viewed it. We were the ‘good with their hands’ mob but tried to ignore that description and didn’t bother to point out that the world had moved on into electronics, computers, et al. So, anything I needed wasn’t cheap and I regularly had to justify my expenditure.

I quickly learned to confuse the ‘Prick’ with a wide smile and many ‘thanks’ for his vigilance. The basic trick was to quote the most obscure reference when ordering a piece of equipment so that he didn’t have a clue what it might be. These were the days when computers were beginning to become an important part of education as a whole so I endeavoured to supply the department with the relevant hardware and software for the subject. Several PC’s with attendant AGP’s (Advanced Graphics Ports), CAD (Computer Aided Design), CD Rom’s (Compact Disc Read Only Memory), and a sprinkling of ‘Dongles’ were regular orders. Any other machinery would be ordered as ‘W3-156’, or ‘MT47’, and so on.

The Prick was often confused by all this but rarely asked what these things were, being too apprehensive to show his ignorance. The real trouble began when the invoices arrived, but after a few years of parrying his annoyance at my occasional overspending I ended up with one of the best-equipped departments for independent schools in the region. As a result of that the overall standard of work from the kids steadily improved to levels which had not been seen before so I largely got away with it.

Other schools had the same problem; an overbearing twerp of a Bursar. But a friend of mine, in another school on the other side of the county, pulled a stunt which I thought was one of the best ever. He taught mathematics in a small independent outfit specialising in providing an education for ‘difficult’ children. The place was full of these head-bangers as no other school would take them. At the beginning of one academic year he reviewed his pittance of a budget and, fed up with trying to teach these little darlings with hardly any equipment, he ordered a special piece of kit.

It arrived, was quickly installed and things went quite well. As the weeks slid by it was noted that his classes, quite apart from any others, were quieter, more responsive to the subject and standards were rising. So far so good but when the invoice arrived, a month or so later, the Bursar almost had a heart attack at the cost of this ‘device’ and summoned my friend to his office.

‘This new piece of equipment,’ the Bursar began, waving the invoice in the air. ‘It’s almost three thousand pounds! Way above your budget! Irresponsible! Irresponsible! And what on earth is, ‘A Device for Ballistic Geometry? Eh, eh?’

This was over thirty years ago so three grand was a hell of a lot of money then. Anyway, my friend couldn’t help smiling at him which only increased this characters rage.

‘Well,’ he answered. ‘I’ve invited the Headmaster to come and see it. Would you like to come along?’

Mr Twerp nodded and shot to his feet following down to the maths room. The Headmaster was already there, a huge grin on his face. ‘Well, done old chap!’ he said, shaking my friend’s hand. ‘This has made such a difference!’

‘Yes,’ my friend replied. ‘With this I can teach practical mathematics, algebra, trigonometry and, of course, geometry.’

The Bursar looked over the Head’s shoulder and there, sitting in the middle of the room was the ‘Device for Ballistic Geometry’. A full size billiard table! The Bursar, still fuming and red in the face, said…..not a word!

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