An open letter to my Spanish teacher

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This is an open letter to my former GCSE and A-level Spanish teacher, indeed the only Spanish teacher I’ve ever had, during the four brief years I spent studying the language, and who, for the sake of this article, I will call Sr. Torro*.

Querida Señor Torro,

In the words of Nick Clegg (as imagined by The Poke – feel free to sing along): I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry. There’s no easy way to say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

Before I get hit with a copyright infringement claim, let me explain.

You were a great teacher. A fantastic teacher. An inspirational teacher. You took someone with almost zero knowledge of the Spanish language and, in two years, turned them into an A* GCSE student. You took an infatuation with a country and its language and turned it into a love. A passion.

And I fucked it up.

I remember with fondness sitting in your classroom in ‘C’ block (C4 if I recall correctly), staring blankly out of the window while you played Juanes (La Camisa Negra) and Julieta Venegas (Limón y Sal), trying in vain to work out the missing words and their meanings.

I remember with fondness the first Spanish idiom you taught me, “todos tenemos nuestro grano de arena”, literally translated as “we all have our grain of sand” but meaning we all have our part to play.

I remember with somewhat less fondness sitting across from you in the music block, stumbling my way through an embarrassing attempt at an oral examination question on the environment.

I remember with less fondness still my mobile phone alarm ringing part-way through a written examination – and the subsequent awkward discussion with the invigilators as to how an alarm can sound even if the phone is switched off!

You were, without a doubt, my favourite teacher, and I just wish I’d paid attention to you more. I’ve always wished I’d paid more attention to you, but never more so than now, when I attempt hopelessly to converse with my new family.

I’d like to meet you one last time to thank you for everything you did and to say sorry for what I didn’t do.

Sorry that I didn’t pay attention as much as I should have. Sorry that I didn’t fulfill the potential I showed when I first stepped foot in your classroom. Sorry that I went from being a promising A*-grade GCSE student to a mediocre C-grade A-level student.

But there’s one thing I will never forgive you for: saying, all those years ago, that Catalan was a regional dialect of Spanish. That made me think learning my wife’s mother tongue would be easier because of my intermediate level of Spanish. It’s not. It’s really not. And in case another of your students grows up to wed a beautiful bride from Barcelona, I’d urge you never to suggest this to your students again.

In seriousness, though, I honestly don’t think it is an exaggeration to suggest my life wouldn’t be where it is today without you. The chain of events that led up to my marriage to my Catalan bride two weeks ago started in your classroom at the age of 14, so thank you.

If you ever read this, thank you.

I just wish I’d listened to you more!

Your (most?) frustrating student,

Alan Collins Pérez de Baños
(formerly Alan Collins)

Disclaimer: My Spanish teacher was not actually called “Sr. Torro” (at least not officially). He wasn’t Spanish. He wasn’t even English. He was Welsh, but could speak four languages – a fact about which I will forever be envious.

Cllr Les Wicks sacked as schools supremo

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As far as political inevitability goes, the departure of Cllr Les Wicks from Medway Council’s cabinet ranks pretty highly.

However, the surprise is that it has taken until last night’s annual meeting of Medway Council for the Leader of the Council, Cllr Rodney Chambers, to show Cllr Wicks the door.

My position on this issue has been clear for a long time. Back when my blood ran in the deepest blue imaginable, I argued that Cllr Wicks and the relevant Director should resign in the best interests of Medway’s children. She left, but Cllr Wicks stayed.

This sorry saga has become a drawn-out embarrassment for the Conservative Group and was one of the few local issues which influenced my decision to leave the party. Cllr Wicks’ continued presence on the cabinet became one big distracting sideshow, while the children in Medway suffered, partly as a result.

It may be that Cllr Chambers hoped that the furore would die down in time, but bad news kept piling on the pressure and the anger from parents in Medway never subsided. At last month’s full council meeting, yet another petition of 800 signatures was presented, calling on his resignation. Cllr Chambers continued to praise his embattled cabinet member, but the writing was surely on the wall.

When I wrote my notorious post calling for Cllr Wicks to resign in 2011, I did so with a heavy heart, because he was a councillor I respected. Such respect has been severely dented after he hung on to his post far longer than he should have.

Now that Cllr Wicks and his cabinet colleague for children’s social care, Cllr David Wildey, have gone, I hope that we can finally put this matter to bed and support the pairing of Cllr Mike O’Brien, taking both jobs, and cabinet newcomer Cllr Kelly Tolhurst, taking a newly created Educational Improvement portfolio (under the direction of the Children’s Services portfolio holder), as they settle into their new roles.

Only time will tell if they are the right people for the job, but I wish them the very best of luck and will reserve judgement for a suitable period of time. After all, change doesn’t happen overnight.

But if it change doesn’t happen at all, it is only the children of Medway who suffer.

*

Other changes were introduced to the cabinet last night. In moving to the Children’s Services portfolio, Cllr O’Brien vacated the Community Safety and Customer Contact portfolio he inherited from Cllr Rehman Chishti when he became an MP in 2010. This portfolio has been taken over by another cabinet newcomer, Cllr David Carr.

Meanwhile, veteran Cllr Tom Mason has been removed from the cabinet as his Corporate Services portfolio was abolished. The functions he carried out have been split amongst the remaining portfolio holders, of which there are now nine (down from ten).

*

The new cabinet looks as follows:

Leader – Cllr Rodney Chambers
Deputy Leader and Finance – Cllr Alan Jarrett
Adult Services – Cllr David Brake
Children’s Services (Lead Member) – Cllr Mike O’Brien
Educational Improvement – Cllr Kelly Tolhurst
Community Safety and Customer Contact – Cllr David Carr
Front Line Services – Cllr Phil Filmer
Housing and Community Services – Cllr Howard Doe
Strategic Development and Economic Growth – Cllr Jane Chitty

Cllr Wicks must resign (reprise)

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Some time ago, whilst still a very committed Conservative, I wrote an article on my old Birmingham and Beyond website, calling on Cllr Les Wicks to resign his portfolio.

18 months on, he is still facing irate parents and others concerned with the more recent OFSTED inspection in relation to child protection.

Whilst Rose Collinson has since left, in most other respects the article is still as relevant today as it was 18 months ago, and merits reproduction here now:

It is with a heavy heart that I write this post about a man for whom I have a great deal of respect, but, in the end, the interests of Medway’s school children must come before personal feelings.

Councillor Les Wicks, Medway Council member for Rainham South ward, is the long-standing Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services – a department which has seen no shortage of angry parents, badly-managed crises and critical press.

Despite ever-improving school results, the children’s services department has managed to cause angst and upset amongst teacher, parents and pupils on a number of occasions, from its school closures program to the recent Medway Test debacle.

It is clear to every observer with a brain cell that something clearly needs to be done about the department – and fast – before it is allowed to mismanage another project or program that could prove vital for the future of every child in Medway.

It must, of course, be made clear that, contrary to the (mainly) party political outbursts from Medway’s opposition, Cllr Wicks is not personally to blame for every ill in his department.

Liberal Democrat blogger Chris Sams hit the nail on the head in his call for Cllr Wicks to resign yesterday, when he said that Rose Collinson, the £115,000 p.a. (plus benefits) full time Director of Children’s Services, was equally to blame for the wrongs of the department.

No matter how dedicated and knowledgeable the portfolio holder (on 10% of the Director’s pay for the privilege of being the public figurehead and politically accountable), they cannot be expected to know absolutely everything in their department, and rely on the Director and staff to keep them up-to-date accurately and fully with their brief.

The children’s services department, though, is clearly ineffective and badly in need of a complete overhaul from the top down.

It is of no use to merely apologise and learn ones lesson, and even Cllr Wicks’ resignation would be little more than papering over the cracks.

Although it would be a useful start.

If he cares at all about the children whose futures are currently in his hands, Cllr Wicks must resign his portfolio and allow another person to take the task of reforming the department.

But, so too must Rose Collinson.

What is needed is an outsider with experience to take the helm as Director of Children’s Services, to clean up and reform an ineffective, under-performing department; to ensure that no further monumental disasters are permitted; and to introduce greater consultative procedures to ensure a helpful dialogue between the council and parents and teachers at all times.

As far as I am concerned, the children’s services department is the weak link in an ever-improving council, and measures must be taken immediately to bring it up to par and to end the apathetic, below-standard operations in the department.

As long as the Les and Rose show continues, disaster is only a curtain call away.