The Remarkable Joe Connolly and his boys incl. The unseemly incident of the board eraser and the superglue.

Now it’s around this time of year as schools go back after the summer holidays, that I get to being nostalgic for the old chalk and talk routine. It is six years, give or take, since I set foot in a classroom and with each passing year, the thought that never again will I have thirty rapt faces, hanging on my every word (even if it is only outlining the perils that befall them if they don’t hang their coats and bags outside my room) catches me unawares.  I miss it you see, which is funny as when I am still working, each eve of a new school year, like every Sunday night, but much worse, fills me with trepidation and dread.

And before people start hollering ‘hypocrite’ and other Latin words; there is much about the job I never care if I never see ever again, such as ‘computerised admin systems’, ‘standardised assessments’ and truckloads of spurious, meaningless pupil data, that follows them round, year on year like a bad smell. Of course I like to keep up to date with educational debates. In fact I laugh like a drain when I hear IT is now to be referred to as Computer Science. Who knows, at this rate it isn’t long before we see the return of Divinity and the teaching of Rhetoric.

But listen; today you are in luck for you are about to get three stories for the price of one – which is pretty good value I reckon in these times of austerity, though I am not one hundred per cent sure where I get cut in on the deal.

Still, the last school I teach at is called Kingsmead an old 11 – 18 Secondary Modern turned comprehensive, which sees its fair share of ups and downs, mainly downs and is located on the edge of a trading estate in South Harrow. After I take up my post, my attention is soon drawn to a Maths teacher, who appears to be of an endangered species – if you believe Mr. Gove and the Tory Party, an extraordinarily gifted and inspirational teacher.  Joe Connolly. Now although I never actually see one of his lessons, his classroom is located next to the staff room with a connecting door, which he is in the habit of leaving open so many a time I hear Joe’s lessons and come to the conclusion that here is a guy who knows what’s what, has a genuine interest in crumbchasers and their welfare, has zero problems with discipline and a good sense of humour.

And he never wears a tie.

Well it so happens that I am not long at Kingsmead when Joe, a single man, begins the adoption process of first one 11 year old boy Danny, and then his younger brother David – and here you’ll have to forgive me, because as for the detail about the process, the boys’ circumstances and backgrounds, I know very little; which I appreciate seems like sloppy writing, but the truth being: private matter, I never think it my place to ask.

Suffice to say, however that these are very troubled boys, particularly Danny, who displays challenging behaviour from the outset. Joe gives the boys a decent home, cares for them and nurtures them. Not only this, but Danny and later David come to Kingsmead. Personally, a greater sacrifice I cannot imagine, as naturally the bulk of Danny and David’s teachers circumvent the school’s disciplinary procedures to complain about the boys’ behavior directly to him.

Young people at school. Causing trouble. Probably

Young people at school. Causing trouble. Probably

I teach Danny when he is in Year 8. It is a good job I have eyes in the back of my head and a few other places besides, as he is a handful sure enough. Anyway, I am teaching them about ‘Guernica’ which is a painting by Picasso he makes in 1937 – as Communist and staunch supporter of the Republican cause/He has no other ideas what to paint (Delete as appropriate)

To try and make it a bit more easy to understand I compare it to the despicable mortar bombing of the Sarajevo Marketplace which just happens.


Now one Monday morning Joe stops me in the staffroom and says like this.

‘We are at IKEA at the weekend, Danny, David and me, when all of a sudden Danny stops and says: It’s that Picture!’

He sees a reproduction of ‘Guernica’ and goes on to explain what it is all about; that there is a war sometime in Spain and this war is a Civil War, like the war in Bosnia. And the artist paints a picture of it and his name is Picasso. It seems Danny gathers a bit of an audience as he tells his tale, one of whom turns out to be an Art Lecturer at the University of something or other, who congratulates him on his explanation. Well, as you can imagine, I am delighted with what proves to be a highlight of my time at Kingsmead.

Well, from the get-go no one will give you odds of 100 to 1 that Danny makes it to the end of year 7, let alone year 11. But he does … Well almost.

You see Danny has a long running spat with his Maths teacher Deputy Head and school sex pest Mr Garter, in his lesson one day as the end of the school year is in sight he exacts a spectacular, not to say audatious humiliation of his nemesis. While Garter, King of the Comb-Overs, who walks like he has a pound coin between his butt cheeks, is not looking, nimble-fingered Danny squirts the whiteboard eraser with superglue. You can imagine the rest. Truly, there is a weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42) It is the Straw which Breaks the Camel’s Back (Glasgow Central 16:45) and Danny is banished into the wilderness.

Whereupon Danny gets a job and buys a scooter.

Danny and David are all growed up now. In fact Danny’s son Barry will be starting secondary school soon. I wonder if he goes to Kingsmead?

Please note names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

C Andy Daly 2013