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  • Writer's pictureDavid OMalley

At the school gate

Timothy Winters comes to school

With eyes as wide as a football-pool,

Ears like bombs and teeth like splinters:

A blitz of a boy is Timothy Winters.

His belly is white, his neck is dark,

And his hair is an exclamation-mark.

His clothes are enough to scare a crow

And through his britches the blue winds blow.

When teacher talks he won't hear a word

And he shoots down dead the arithmetic-bird,

He licks the pattern off his plate

And he's not even heard of the Welfare State.

Timothy Winters has bloody feet

And he lives in a house on Suez Street,

He sleeps in a sack on the kitchen floor

And they say there aren't boys like him anymore.

Old Man Winters likes his beer

And his missus ran off with a bombardier,

Grandma sits in the grate with a gin

And Timothy's dosed with an aspirin.

The welfare Worker lies awake

But the law's as tricky as a ten-foot snake,

So Timothy Winters drinks his cup

And slowly goes on growing up.

At Morning Prayers the Master helves*

for children less fortunate than ourselves,

And the loudest response in the room is when Timothy Winters roars "Amen!"

So come one angel, come on ten

Timothy Winters says "Amen

Amen amen amen amen."

Timothy Winters, Lord. Amen


Charles Causley

This poem describes an abandoned and poor lad coming to school in the postwar years. The poverty is clear, the need is shouting out from his hunger and poor clothing.

There are plenty of Timothys still coming through our school gates today and their needs are no less obvious, poor appearance, anxious and angry faces, poor nutrition. Like Timothy, many are not ready to learn because their basic needs are not being met but social services can be "as tricky as a ten foot snake" and the underlying needs are not easily addressed by the community or school.

It is easy to write off such students, especially when they spell trouble in their behaviour and their academic attainment. But Catholic education cannot step onto such a slippery slope they should not be written off. On the contrary, the Gospel and church social teaching puts the Timothys of our schools at the centre, a preferential option for our time and resources. It was certainly Don Bosco's preference for Salesian schools since the 1840s and the new framework makes it clear that:

Leaders and governors are to be inspirational witnesses to the Gospel and to Catholic Social Teaching in their direction of the school at every level. They embody the Church’s preferential option for the poor by ensuring that resources are consciously and effectively targeted at those in greatest need, both materially and educationally. (P38)

Timothy would hopefully receive a good welcome in our Catholic schools, but he will still be awkward, unpredictable and disruptive. But that can be a gift to a school. Such challenges test our faithfulness to the Gospel, our compassion, patience and forgiveness. Almost a thousand years ago, St Bernard, speaking to his community leaders said that if they didn't have an awkward person in the community they should go out and find one. He believed that it was in the struggle to live and work together that grace, goodness and maturity emerged. Obviously, if you have too many Timothys, other students will begin to suffer and that is part of the leadership balancing act. But don't wish them all away because they also bring blessings and perspective. They rub salt into the wounds of of our Gospel compromises and move us, as educators, further along our vocational path.

So, when you are on the school gate, checking uniforms, looking into the faces of young people, look for the many faces of poverty and welcome them with loving kindness, consistent discipline and optimism.

Amen! Amen!

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