From the Superintendent’s Eyrie

Irish Times Educational Supplement, June 14, 1993

One of the regulations laid down by the Department of Education in the General Instructions for Superintendents (Revised 1993) reminds superintendents to give their entire attention to the work of superintendence 'and that the reading of newspapers or books, making out advise notes or advise slips, writing letters, sewing, knitting, or engaging in any occupation other than superintendence, during the examination is incompatible with the proper discharge of their duties.' They are not allowed to bring into the centres any newspapers or books, presumably lest they be tempted. And, of course, they cannot smoke. The only thing not forbidden is the cup of coffee. But, I can see that going also: try taking your elevenses during maths exam and it definitely interferes with the insatiable demand for graph paper .

It's midway through the afternoon session and I'm beginning to wilt. The boiled bacon, cabbage and spuds tasted lovely but have begun to take their toll. The effects of the coffee and ginger snaps at three have quickly worn off. A terrible drow­siness has come over me, helped by the air made heavy with thunder. I could almost sleep on my feet.

The mind, almost consumed, is suddenly awakened. How many left-­handers among the forty candidates for Leaving Cert? The answer is eight. Twenty percent! Is this the national average? Has the number increased in recent years since people came to the conclusion that there is nothing sinister in writing with the left hand? Strange, that it is still held that left-handed golfers and hurlers never really make it. That is, of course, with such exceptions as Bob Charles and Jimmy Doyle.

Four of my boys wear earrings. Why do they? Why do the other thirty-six not? What does it tell us about either grouping? Five wear glasses. Is the national average for 17-18 year olds twelve and a half percent? And what about the four with pronounced acne? Are they also part of an average or are they telling me about their diets or sex lives?

I consider my group to be conservatively dressed. No less than thirty wear blue jeans. If jeans were a compulsory uniform in school would anyone be wearing them? And, because they are not : but a sign of liberation have we thirty conservatives slavishly imitating their peers? The remaining ten show a spot of independence: Oh, yes, they still wear different brands of jeans but the colours are other than blue.

A similar conservative outlook can be seen in their footwear. A majority, twenty-four, wear different makes of runners, Nike, Adidas, and rarer breeds. Usually on a hot day they stink but there are no odours emanating today. There are five pairs of Doc Martins and eleven pairs of assorted shoes. The Doc Martin is so eminently suited to schoolboys. And girls, for that matter .

Apart from my own there are only eight shirts in the room. They are of assorted colours and makes but recognisably shirts. The remainder are a rainbow coalition of tee-shirts, sweat-shirts and sports jerseys advertising a whole spectrum of goods and clubs and universities.
Only four are of the long-haired variety and even they reflect a conservative hirsute streak. One has a pony tail tying back shiny black hair a la Jerry Ryan as he used to be. The vast majority reveal a partiality to tidy locks, many even favouring close-cut concoctions.

As a result of this survey do I know anything more of my silently-working scholars? Can one judge the book by the cover? Are they any different to a similar group in the next town or city? If not, are they part of a vast amorphous mass being processed through the present secondary school system? Does the system and peer pressure stifle individuality?

Whatever it tells me the important thing is I'm awake and alive again and the clock is fast approaching the magical hour of five o'clock and the breakout into the refreshing air.