Teachers' strikes? That meant six of the belt in my day – Vladimir McTavish

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This week, schools in the city and throughout Scotland were closed due to industrial action by teachers.

As someone who was at school in the 1970s, I feel envious of today’s teenagers. I had to endure compulsory Latin lessons, a mandatory military cadet force and corporal punishment. And our teachers never went on strike.

I would have given my right arm for a teacher’s strike in 1974. The idea that I would be able to spend a couple of days without the fear of getting six of the belt for doing something as innocuous as playing the class fool would have got me through that grim first week of January when we all had to put the Christmas holidays behind us and knuckle down to declining some verb or other in a dead language.

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I would have been positively ecstatic if our prelims were to be postponed, as I would doubtless have spent the entire Christmas break skiving instead of revising. Believe it or not, in those far-off days, we even had a Latin teacher who had a system of corporal punishment whereby a thrashing would be administered to any poor fool who failed two weekly tests in a row.

Today's teachers are worthy of public support in their pay dispute (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)Today's teachers are worthy of public support in their pay dispute (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Today's teachers are worthy of public support in their pay dispute (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

However, I think it’s highly unlikely that the thought of striking would ever have crossed the minds of most of the teachers at my school. More’s the pity. Tory voters to a man (and in those days they were men), they would have blanched at the very idea that they would down their tools of child torture for a day in pursuit of a pay rise. They weren’t in it for the money. They just loved causing undue levels of pain to mouthy 14-year-olds.

Obviously, we now live in more enlightened times. Teachers have changed. Kids have changed. When Greta Thunberg organised her worldwide school strike every Friday to draw attention to climate change, teachers encouraged students to take part. When I was 16 and organised a somewhat smaller school strike against the Vietnam War, I received zero support from the academic staff.

Admittedly, our action served to draw attention to nothing other than the fact that me and three mates had decided to spend Friday afternoon smoking at a bus stop, and I got triple detention. And three of the belt for talking back. And a letter to my parents who were less than sympathetic to the moral stance I had taken.

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Nevertheless, today’s teenagers have had a tough three years. They have suffered serial disruption to their education because of lockdown, and I feel for them. Mainly because the only prospect more depressing than 1970s education would have been 1970s parental home-schooling.

I suspect that today’s young people are much more intellectually engaged than I was at their age. And I know for a fact that today’s teachers are much more enlightened and caring than my schoolmasters, who operated in a system that was ironically much better funded than it is today.

Today’s teachers do a wonderful job in a climate of increasingly declining resources. They deserve our support and they deserve a decent pay rise. I just wish that their predecessors during my teen years had been politically active. And less inclined to casual violence, of course.

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