I’m fairly looking forward to retiring after exams are finished for the year. After over thirty years as a teacher, I can’t wait to do a wee bit of travelling and get over to see the grandkids in New Zealand.
A first year girl in my registration class asked me recently what my most embarrassing moment as a teacher was. Christ, you’d be able to write a book! Five years of teaching R.E. at St. Ninian’s High in Giffnock, then twenty-six at St. Mungo’s in Falkirk builds quite the catalogue of student shenanigans. There were probably worse examples, but one recent story comes to mind.
At the start of 2004, I started teaching Media Studies. I also ran an after-school radio club which began near the end of 2005 which eventually started doing daily bulletins in the mornings.
The first kids that took part were a group of third and sixth years. I called them the ‘Groovy Gang’ because the boys had trendy haircuts and the girls looked as though they were seventeen-going on-twenty-three. They’ll all be finished uni now.
By 2008, the ‘Groovy Gang’ were getting ready to leave school and a few first and third years had joined the radio club looking to eventually replace them.
By this point, it was like Radio 1’s Newsbeat with two presenters reading out the school bulletins and playing a song afterwards. We were set up with modern equipment that most online radio stations have. I knew the basics and taught them how to make a short broadcast.
The more experimental kids could use every switch and dial, but as long as they stuck to their script I left them to it.
The new third years were nice kids, the Groovy Gang 2.0, all trendy hair, pointy shoes and shoulder bags. They were a lot cheekier than the older group, but there was this one boy, Sean McGlynn, who would test the patience of St Mungo himself. “McGlynn, go to the office!” was a rallying cry that year.
There have been many smart alecks who’ve challenged the teachings of the Catholic Church during my time at St Mungo’s and there will no doubt be more in future. However, Sean was Crown Prince of the Militant Atheists whenever he had the chance.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien would visit around twice a year to say a mass for the whole school. On this particular occasion, the Rector asked us to record an interview with His Eminence to put up on the school website for Ash Wednesday, where he would talk about his own experiences in school as a young man and how we can use Christ’s teachings as Easter Week approached. This was the first interview of its kind we’d been asked to do, which was a big deal at the time.
I was to select one of the kids to interview the Cardinal and another to edit the piece together for our morning broadcast on Good Friday. He had been in the news the week before condemning the proposed Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. I recall him comparing embryo research to Frankenstein-like experiments. No prizes for guessing who was first in class the next morning.
“This research can bring medical breakthroughs! Why does Keith think “God” would want us to stand in the way of this progress? I want to ask him!”
The way he air quoted ‘God’ annoyed me, so I told another third year, Daniel Connell, he would interview the Cardinal while Sean could edit the recording. I had no reason to worry, he wouldn’t be able to hide any planned audio manipulation before I approved the final copy. He claimed that I had censored him but I just wasn’t in the mood for his spiel.
I knew Sean wanted to go on to do journalism, but this wasn’t an appropriate time to play at being Jeremy Paxman. The matter was put to rest.
The interview went well and Sean had done an adequate job of editing the conversation into a three minute clip. I could see from the editing software and careful listening that he hadn’t tampered with the recording. The Good Friday broadcast would go ahead as planned.
Sean and Daniel asked to do the broadcast since it had been a joint effort in putting the interview together. Naturally I said yes, they’d done a good job and this would be great for their CV’s.
A few minutes before they went on air Daniel started laughing his head off with Sean frantically shushing him. I poked my head into the radio booth to tell them to knock it off. This was a solemn day of contemplation of Our Lord’s suffering that didn’t need two yahoos squawking over the bulletins like a couple of seagulls.
“Aye, sorry miss,” started Daniel, “It was just that Se-“
“Shut up! We’ll calm down,” Sean said with an edge of nervousness.
The laddie always got anxious before doing the bulletins, no chance he’d have handled talking to Cardinal O’Brien.
I went back into the classroom and began marking papers. The pair of them got over their giggling fit and made it through the bulletins without incident. The interview would be played next.
With their microphones switched off I heard the pair of them in absolute hysterics. They were up to something and I was too late to stop it now.
The usually warm burr of Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien’s voice suddenly started squeaking over the tannoy like a child who’d sucked on a helium balloon.
The classroom around me erupted in uproarious laughter. My desk phone had a call direct from the Rector. I immediately knew who the culprit was.
“MCGLYNN! GET TAE THE OFFICE! NOW!”
It turned out that the little shit had his hand on a dial that, until that day, I never realised altered the pitch of the audio output.
Embarrassed? I was mortified!