This week, I covered an Economics class for an absent colleague. This is part of a new system we have just introduced. In the past, if a teacher was away, students in his/her classes were told to get on with some private study wherever they liked.
This has never been the policy in other schools around the world where I have worked. The usual practice is to have a permanent relief teacher who covers for absent colleagues and who arranges other teachers to do so, if more than one absence occurs on a given day. This is the system I am now applying at KYUEM. In the event of a relief teacher not being able to cover every class, he can call on anyone else who is free. I have always believed in leading from the front, so in the first instance, the extra teacher he should call on is me. Of course, there will be times when I am unable to cover such a class, and then our relief teacher must look at the timetable to discover which members of staff are free and use them instead.
Critics may well ask why I have felt the need to introduce such a system. After all, our students are mature, young adults and can work well by themselves - particularly in this, the second semester, when all eyes are on CIE examinations. However, this is missing an essential point. All Headmasters, to some extent, have bees in their bonnets and mine is knowing where everyone is at any given time. Elsewhere on this blog I have mentioned the harrowing experience I had as a young teacher when the school which employed me burned down. On that awful day, when a roll call of students was taken on the games field, two students were unaccounted for. They were eventually found in a nearby cafe, having decided to absent themselves from class. I have never forgotten the imagined horror of losing students to fire. This is why at KYUEM I have made such an issue of fire drills. One's past always colours one's present, and I am no exception.
But there is more to covering absent teachers than simply knowing where students are at any one time. This semester, we have decided to make our priorities attendance and punctuality. Most of our students turn up regularly for class and are always on time. The fact is, nonetheless, that we a have small minority of persistent offenders as far as good time keeping is concerned. Students, I know, are heartily tired of me saying that as a Brit, punctuality is in my DNA, yet good time-keeping is a life skill that we all need. Teachers are always telling me that every lesson counts if they are to cover the full requirements of an A level syllabus. Imagine then, if a student misses, say,12 minutes a day of classes because of tardiness. That's an hour a week (or the equivalent of 1.5 lessons). This is time s/he can ill afford to lose.
To come back to my relief lessons with the junior Economics class this week, I had yet another reflection on the passage of time. The topic they were supposed to be covering was international currency exchange, which led me to ask them about non-convertible currencies, such as those of the former Communist Bloc. To my immense surprise, their knowledge of what to me is fairly recent history, was about as distant as the age of the dinosaurs. I recalled for them what it was like to grow up during the Cold War and worrying about nuclear Armageddon. I mentioned the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. It was a sobering thought to realise that these are historical events that have only the most peripheral interest for our KYUEM young people. I wonder what their memories will be, 20 or 30 years hence. Will the events that shape their lives today have as much resonance for them as my recollections of travelling behind the Iron Curtain and the Vietnam War? What prisoners of time we all are!