Like many memoirs, Ned Manning’s Playground Duty reads like a yarn spun at a bar. Indeed, the story itself features a lot of drinking, including a memorable scene in which the new-in-town teacher ends up in a pub with underage students. “My second day on the job,” he recalls, “and I was drinking with a 14-year-old!” It’s the stuff of the front bar, or the fireside – wry storytelling that comes from the heart.
I came across Manning on Radio National’s EdPod, and took to his no-nonsense approach to the profession. He tells it like it is, from students exposing themselves in the front row to parent-teacher interviews to which parents turn up “a little bit stoned.” He’s no less frank about his own struggles: his fear of hostile staff rooms, or classes of disinterested kids. For me this earns him the right to rant a bit between anecdotes, as we buy the next round or nip to the bathroom, ready for what comes next. (Pet topics include the stupidity of staff meetings, the tyranny of marking and the absurdity of acronyms.)
At the heart of the book is a strong love of teaching. “One thing is for sure,” Manning declares, “we teachers see the best of kids. Admittedly, sometimes the worst as well, but the best outstrips the worst, by a huge margin. It’s why teaching is such a great job.” By last drinks, I believed him.