Magazine article The Spectator

United Front

Magazine article The Spectator

United Front

Article excerpt

I knew I wasn't going to like Mr Troy, his biology teacher. My boy had told me Mr Troy liked progressive jazz. Just as there is an immutable psychic law that decrees I'll like every New Zealander I meet, so there is a similar one that means I never like fans of progressive jazz.

My boy didn't like Mr Troy, he said, because he was rude and vain. So when it was our turn to sit opposite him, the first of the three teachers we were going to interview during my boy's parents' evening, we presented a united front of antipathy, if not outright hostility, towards the man.

Mr Troy was law made flesh right down to his goatee beard and ponytail. 'So nice to see you, erm, Mr Jones,' he said, without looking up from the sheaf of exam papers he was shuffling. 'The name's Clarke,' I said. He looked up. 'Sorry. Foolish of me to assume that any of my pupil's parents were also joined together in holy matrimony. You have my apology.'

He located my boy's GCSE exam paper and rapidly scanned it. My boy had scored 14 marks out of 20, which is a D grade. Mr Troy attributed this below-average mark to my boy's sloppy attitude to his schoolwork rather than to his ignorance of the subject. He urged me to consider as an example of this sloppiness my boy's answer to the question: what is the function of the heart? He'd had to deduct a full mark (the difference between a D and a C grade, incidentally) because my boy had written, 'It is a pump.'

He pushed the exam paper across the table so that I could see for myself and be as disappointed at my boy's answer as he was. 'What does the heart pump?' he demanded angrily of my boy. 'Blood,' said my boy. 'Well why the hell didn't you put "blood", then?' Mr Troy gripped the edge of the table and slumped forward momentarily, a little pantomime signifying tedium, wasted effort, exhaustion. Then he prattled on for a bit longer about my boy not 'contributing' enough to classroom discussions. He didn't bite, he said. If there was anything my boy didn't understand he should feel free to speak to him after the lesson.

What Mr Troy failed to understand, however, was that neither of us were taken in by arseholes like him. Me and my boy watched his performance impassively, as we might watch an unusually extrovert gibbon behind the glass in the monkey house at Paignton Zoo. …

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