Some time ago I heard a fascinating true story from one of our Headteachers. She had been browsing in an old antique shop in East Lothian and had come across an ornately decorated lamp, which seemed to be of early Celtic origin.
She was captivated by its appearance and bought it on the spot. On getting home she set about polishing it, whereupon it burst forth with an immense cloud of smoke and sparks. As the smoke cleared a huge figure dressed in full Highland regalia appeared in front of her and announced, “Ach lassie, I am the Jimmy of the Lamp and I have the power to grant your wishes to the ancient challenge known as the Dominie’s Conundrum”
The Dominie’s Conundrum went like this:
“ I know that in your school you have forty teachers. Ten of these teachers are amongst the best I’ve ever seen. They can inspire children; bring light into their lives; get them to achieve beyond what anyone might have imagined; and give them a deep love of learning.
I also see that you have twenty good teachers. These people work hard; care about the children; try and improve what they are doing in the classroom; work well with their colleagues; help children to achieve; and give children a good platform for future learning.
But, I see that you are also burdened with ten unsatisfactory teachers. They don’t care for children; they bully and blame; they are lazy and poorly prepared; children go backwards in their classes; children turn off learning; and children take two years to recover from their experience.
The Dominie’s Conundrum gives you two choices. The first of these is to do nothing. If you take this choice I will disappear and never return and your life will continue as normal. The second of these choices is very simple and may change your life forever.
For I have the power to exchange your ten weak teachers for ten good, but not outstanding teachers. But if you take this option you must also give up your ten outstanding teachers – although I will also exchange them for ten good teachers. The result of accepting this choice is that you will have 40 good teachers to work in your school. So what is to be your decision?”
“So” said the Headteacher, “Let me see if I’ve got this right? You’re saying that if I want to lose my ten poor teachers, I must also lose my ten best teachers?
“Yes”-said the Jimmy of the Lamp.
“But think of the life changing experiences that outstanding teachers can give individual children. Surely a school needs to made up of different qualities of teachers?” said the Headteacher.
“Maybe it does but you need to judge whether the effect of a very poor teacher is counterbalanced by having a outstanding teacher?” said the Jimmy of the Lamp.
“But I believe that I can improve the ten weak teachers by using my strong teachers to support them. I have faith in people and I know that fundamentally everyone wants to improve.” said the Headteacher
“And has that worked?” asked Jimmy of the Lamp.
“Well no it hasn’t- yet – but I’m confident it will given enough time. Not just that but if these teachers are as poor as you say they are I would be looking for support from my local authority to begin disciplinary procedures.” said the Headteacher.
“But just think of all the time and effort that would take. What I’m offering you is an instant solution. No one would suffer. No one would ever know that you had taken this option. The world would just change for you and your school.” Said the Jimmy.
“No one would ever know”? said the Headteacher
“No one” said the Jimmy.
“And no one would be hurt or offended” she said. “No one” said the Jimmy.
“And all I have to do is say yes?” said the headteacher.
At that the Headteacher made her decision and Jimmy of the Lamp disappeared in a cloud of smoke – never to be seen again.
The Headteacher brought that lamp into the office last week and gave it to me. It’s a beautiful object and it sits on my desk – tempting me.