Kid #23 – Smacking A Parent

The twenty third-kid I hated hit his mother repeatedly in front of the entire playground.

The mother just stood there taking it. She had such little self-esteem and self-respect left that she allowed this seven year old boy to continue hitting her again and again. Sure he was seven and doing little damage, but it was concerning she allowed him to do this without reprimand or consequence.

She stood there, looking completely unsure what to do.

The classroom teacher needed to intervene. The teacher guided the boy to a bench and sat down with him and started going through the reasons he shouldn’t hit his mother. The mother also sat with them silently allowing the teacher to do all the talking.

It concerned me how little authority the mother had over her own child.

It also concerned me that teachers are having to fill such gaps in parenting.

What was more concerning was a bigger-picture problem where mothers are disenabled by their male counterparts within their own families.

There’s the old catchphrase, “Wait until your father gets home!” used by mothers throughout the decades.

But in the old days, this phrase was used as a final stage in a long series of sanctions. Normally the mother had complete control over the situation and wanted to add the cherry on top of the guilt that was the discipline pie implemented in her home.

However, in some families I’ve witnessed situations where the women are seen and not heard.

Often in these families the mother has told me, “I don’t know what to do. My child doesn’t listen to me. They only listen to their father and he won’t be home for a couple of weeks.”

I ask myself, What will happen in the meantime? Are we all expected to withstand the belligerence of your offspring, while Daddy’s off abroad wheeling and dealing?

The answer I come up with is ‘No’. Children are very in the moment. They don’t need hierarchal systems. You must establish your own relationship with a child and the respect will operate within that framework.

If a child respects your boundaries for behaviour and achievement, then they will respond accordingly. If you have disempowered yourself by always referring them to third parties, they won’t be interested in what you ask of them.

More at fault of course are the men who have devalued their wives and daughters.

One father I dealt with had a wife who always looked very sheepish and began every sentence with, “My husband was wondering ….” or “My husband would like our daughter to …” or “My husband wishes to…” She was always very pale and nervous looking, speaking quietly and continually appearing sleep-deprived.

When I finally met with the father, I was surprised to find him a most amicable character. But soon enough it became evident where his values lay. He would speak about how successful his sons were academically and that he liked to see them pushed. But his daughter, whom I taught, he said was not as gifted and he was simply content to know she was happy at school and would have the skills to be able to look after herself and family when she was older.

It sounded like he was planning to raise a 1950’s housewife.

Turns out his daughter was quite intelligent. More intelligent than her brothers. Definitely more intelligent than her misogynistic father.

But then these are the sort of fathers who lead to such incidents as what I witnessed in the playground that day. A mother, who had no means by which to discipline her own child. A mother, whose own father had presumably taught her to be subservient to the whims of men. She’d married a man who then asked her to look after the household and left her to solely look after the kids; probably to return to a chaotic home, demanding why the children’s behaviour was so out of line.

It was no wonder the child had such little respect to start laying into his mother publicly. His mother was a metaphoric punching bag for the father, so now the child had brought the metaphor to life.

In a generation where hitting your children is frowned upon, perhaps the balance had shifted the wrong way. If his mother had given him the odd smack, perhaps he’d have known his place. But then again, her inability to control came from the father’s own misplaced family values.

Either way if I ever met this child again, I doubt I’d join him for a round of ‘Whack-a-Mum’.

What is a Teen Dating App? (or rather ‘what the hell is a teen dating app?’)

We had child safeguarding training at work the other day. There was all the usual cautionary tales and signs to look for.

But one the thing that behoved me was to find out there are now dating apps for teenagers.

That’s right! Dating apps for thirteen to nineteen year olds. Here’s the link to one:

http://www.mylol.com/

Don’t click on it you pervert!

Anyhoo, I feel dating apps for teenagers should be bundled amongst things that are definitely a bad idea. Dare I say such applications are worse and more dangerous than pornography.

At least with pornography is known to contain explicit material, so when you click on it and see explicit material, you are unsurprised.

Or for example, drugs. Drugs are dangerous to teenagers also. But they are illegal and, although used by teenagers, adults will frown upon drug use.

Yet here is something being marketed straight to a teenage market, when parents are fighting tooth and nail to prevent their children creating Tinder accounts, Snapchatting their private parts or Facebooking their home address. We as adults are trying to teach the youth of today to be careful online and not fall into honey traps. Then along comes a group (presumably adults also) deciding to entice children into socialising with faceless strangers on a dating app.

Plus despite the website’s own terms and conditions stating an age cap (USERS THAT ARE OVER THE AGE OF 19 YEARS ARE FORBIDDEN TO SIGNUP FOR MYLOL. Registering with fake ages will result in a permanent ban from the site.), what’s to stop people creating fake accounts?

mylol profiles

I’m not being some old fuddy-duddy prude who doesn’t want kids going out on dates. Date away. But surely it is best to date people you know. As many of us adults know, you meet enough weirdos and creeps doing online dating when you’re an adult. Imagine how many creeps and weirdos you’d meet as a teenager with less of a filter.

Hell, when I become a parent I’m going to get a cell phone jammer for my house. There’ll be no social media on my watch. Even the most innocent session of Minecraft can turn into a gaming session of lust and desire.

In short I am shocked that adults are endorsing the very things so many other adults are fighting to keep on top of. In real life we wouldn’t accept speed-dating for toddlers, or a cocktail bar for teens, or a dating consultant for under 18s. But in the under-policed cyber version of our universe there it is.

Join me next week, when I create my own ‘mylol’ profile to prove you can be over 19 and count as a teenager in Cyberspace. Oh no, these guys have already beaten me to it…

Kid #22 – The naughtiest child ever

The twenty second-kid I hated was the worst child I’d ever taught.

Or at least that’s what I told him, or rather death-whispered it in his ear as I dismissed him.

It probably wasn’t even true. I’d taught worse (Kid number two, for instance was a lot worse).

Kid number 22 was a very naughty boy. I only taught him for one day, but his behaviour stood out as so delinquent there was little left to do than give him a piece of my mind. He was a product of his home, yet also the school he attended.

When I arrived in the morning to cover his Year Three class, I was told by the deputy, “Don’t worry too much about getting anything done. Just baby-sit them for the day and their normal teacher will be able to sort anything out tomorrow”.

This was an ominous sign. I felt an urge to excuse myself and return to bed, sacrificing that day’s pay. Instead, I went against my better judgement and began setting up the classroom.

As the morning bell rang the cacophonous stampede of size 7-12 leather Clarks could be heard galloping up the stairwell and spilling into the upstairs corridor. I braced myself against the door-jam of the classroom, ready to politely (but firmly) greet each child.

Then the whooping started.

“Yes, it’s a supply teacher!”; “Awesome, Mrs Smithsworthy isn’t in today!”; “We’re not going to do any work today!”

How did these kids even know what a ‘supply teacher’ is? Most kids under the age of 13 are too self-consumed to see past their left elbow. They’re caught up in their own little world. Sometimes, I’d be halfway through a day’s work, before certain kids would realise I wasn’t their normal teacher.

Perhaps the deputy had spoken with them in the playground and told them the same thing he told me.

And there was kid number 22. His face was permanently scarred with a mischievous slash psychopathic grin, ready to cause chaos; a delinquent at the age of seven. He had one of those haircuts where everything is shaved short except for the mullet fringe at the back. Not that a haircut is reason to judge what a personality will be like, but sometimes a personality is a reason to judge what a haircut will be like.

The child was full of expletives, immediately escalating himself to a morning break detention. The rest of the class wasn’t far behind, paying such little attention to the lesson that I had to drop Maths for the day to spend time going through the ‘Golden Rules’ chart on the pin-up board.

It was at this point I became more infuriated. It seemed the children had a comprehensive knowledge of what the classroom expectations were, but had consciously chosen to flaunt them. Normally, I find younger children have misunderstandings of appropriate behaviour, whereas teenagers know the limits and choose to exceed them.

This Year Three class were acting like teenagers. They knew I was a cover teacher so had chosen to throw the ‘Golden Rules’ out the window along with a couple of pencils and one boy’s exercise book.

I’d not seen such collective self-awareness in young children for a long time, if ever. We finished re-vising the rules and how to behave normally, before ascending to the third floor of the building for a music lesson. The music specialist took this lesson, so I returned to the sanctuary of the now peaceful classroom.

A senior staff member popped her head in to see how things were going. I lied and said it was fine, hoping to myself that the time continuum would collapse on itself and it’d suddenly become 3.30pm.

She also asked where the teaching assistant was. I said I had seen a lady in the room earlier in the day. But she hadn’t said much.

The teaching assistant who was supposed to have been with these naughty children had seemingly gone AWOL. She too must have been told by the deputy that the day would be a right off; and I imagine she retreated to the photocopying room to regain whatever sanity she had lost dealing with these kids over the preceding months.

The peace was short-lived as four boys returned to the room prematurely. The twenty-second kid had been incessantly banging his drum, after being told to stop by the music teacher. His goons had joined in the fun by laughing evil laughs and egging him on.

Now they were my problem again. I made them write lines, which due to their illiteracy became one single line i.e. one line between the four of them.

Lunch came and went. The afternoon was marred by the Maths lesson we hadn’t completed in the morning and the kid, I had come to hate, threw his toys out the pram when I asked him to count to ten with some number blocks. The blocks were tossed from the metaphoric pram to the corner of the room, while he was guided to the opposite corner to sit in ‘time-out’.

This of course was short lived, because the sugar from the Walkers cheese and onion chips he’d eaten at lunch had clearly kicked in and caused him to have another burst of adrenaline. He began literally bouncing off walls and running into things.

It is children like this that make a good case for bringing back the dunce hat. Then at least there’d be something to weigh the child down with, so they’d find it harder to leave ‘time-out’.

The day finally ended and I escorted the children to the playground for pickup. Though, it was more like they escorted themselves out, as we had all had more than enough by then.

The naughty child was now hitting another child or sibling.

Then suddenly he spotted his parents walking in with his kick scooter.

So before he ran off to them, I bent down and whispered in his ear, “You are the worst [dramatic pause] child I have ever taught. And if I teach here again, I hope you improve your behaviour young man”.

I never did teach there again thank goodness, and the kid simply rode off into the distance, running over a little girl’s toe in the process.

Maybe the boy had a condition. Maybe I was harsh to whisper in his ear just to satisfy myself I’d gained some juvenile revenge. Really, someone within the school should have started addressing the breadth of misbehaviour. There was no need for that much naughtiness.

For me it was another day another dollar. And I never returned.

Perhaps things are better there now and the boy has been diagnosed with some form of deficit disorder.

But if I ever met him again, I doubt I’d join him on the halfpipe with my scooter.

Kid #21 – You can guide a kid to textbooks, but you can’t make them think

The twenty-first kid I hated had a real ‘make me!’ attitude.

By ‘make me!’, I am referring to the following sorts of interactions:

Teacher/Parent/Adult/Authority figure: Please, can you tuck your shirt in?

Kid: Make me!

Or

Teacher/Parent/Adult/Authority figure: Please, can you sit down?

Kid: Make me!

And so on and so forth.

For argument’s sake, let’s say kid number 21 was called ‘Tarquin’. He had become so notorious around the school for his defiance that students and staff alike would say, “Have you met Tarquin yet?”, “Is Tarquin in your class?” or “Such and such student couldn’t be worse than Tarquin”.

Who was this child? And did I really want to meet him?

I was covering classes in this school for a number of months. The school was situated in an area of London prone to a certain amount of gang warfare. The gangs were usually made up of vulnerable teenagers and misguided young adults involving themselves in forcing young female members to be involved in various sexual acts, general theft and a bit of knife crime.

My gut feeling was the majority of students in the school were not part of such gangs, but some of those who weren’t continuing beyond Year 10 were probably on the cusp of joining such groups. The school was very active in bringing to the attention of students, the pitfalls of gang culture. Ex-gang members were often brought in as guest speakers; extra-curricular clubs and activities were organised as distractions; and the issue of knife crime was debated as a topic in English classes, using the institutionalised racism of the Stephen Lawrence case as a backdrop (albeit some of the children seemed more interested in the knife side of ‘knife crime’ and less concerned about the crime).

One film studies class was even making a mockumentary about the 2011 London riots, documenting a gang who had resorted to raiding stationery shops for highlighters.

With such a demographic and a number of already lippy students, I was prepared for the worst upon meeting the twenty first kid. Would he be part of such a gang? Is that why he was so well-known?

Apprehensive at every turn, when covering year nine classes, I expected the child to storm in at any moment. Then one day covering a woodwork class it happened…

In stormed ‘Tarquin’. He did not fit the gangster mould at all. I was expecting a much more vicious and streetwise child from a struggling background. Instead he appeared to be a well-spoken middle-class lad born into a good home. So initially I relaxed.

However, he had turned up five minutes late to class and seemed rather unapologetic. I should have been more cautious.

When asked to sit down in a seat, he declared that he was fine and continued to wander around the room. He began picking up tools; saws, chisels and other sharp construction implements, which I had been explicitly instructed to make sure students did not handle. The students were only supposed to work on their written booklet explaining how they were going to construct their wooden pencil box for next lesson.

The rest of the year nines seemed to be enjoying the show. Here was their class-clown ready to spoil the day. He was no Krusty, but if it meant they didn’t need to complete their written element of work, they’d settle for his second rate cousin.

The child continued to ignore me completely, despite every polite attempt to get his attention and encourage him to sit in a chair. There is nothing ruder or more defiant than being ignored completely by a student. Yet there is also an element of knowing with such a child. They’ve realised the limitations of the adults to ‘make’ them do things. Beyond my words I had nothing. I could call a senior staff member in, and soon enough I did, but he treated them the same way. It would have been easier if he’d smashed a window or something, because then we’d have been able to call the police who may have been able to force him to do something. Something like sitting in a cell, instead of the chair I’d originally asked him to rest upon.

But even force with not lead to learning.

And there-in lay the dilemma when later in the lesson he was asked to do his work and responded with, “make me!”.

There is in fact no way to make someone learn. They can only be cajoled, encouraged, persuaded and threatened with consequence, to complete a task.

Instead this child was happy to enjoy his minute status as a celebrity. He wandered the room greeting all his pals, as though he was some sort of politician working a room. He sat at his table like a chairman of an important board meeting, leading discussions in everything but the topic at hand. When the lesson finally ended he swanned (or perhaps even minced) out of the room with an air of contempt towards those he had just spent time with; he obviously had more important places to be.

It’s hard to know with some of these children whether the bravado comes from a place of insecurity or, as stated early, the knowledge that rules can be pushed to their limit (or even ignored) to get what you want.

The problem with this character was he’d only realised half the picture. He knew there were limited short term consequences to his blatant disregard for authority. He was reaping the rewards of his popularity within the safety net of his school environment. But left out to float in the ocean of the real world, he’d be swallowed up by the shark that is society and torn limb from limb like an malnourished walrus – I feel this is an apt metaphor considering his body type.

Luckily I only taught that class until the end of the week and moved to another part of the school, where again the name Tarquin became merely a quasi-outlaw rumoured about in the corridors. A god among pupils and fool among teachers. His destiny was tied up in failure due the size of his ego and belt strap.

So although the child may have suffered from some social autism, if we met again I doubt I’d invite him in for coffee. He’d have to ‘make me!’.

Kid #20 – How a papercut can escalate

The twentieth kid I hated made me bleed.

It was only a paper cut, but it really hurt. Plus fast-moving sheets of A4 copier paper is about as high-stakes as my classrooms get. The worst part was my ego was crushed, because I yelped in pain as it happened, thus dissolving the stern facade I was trying to project to the class. Worse still, the child decided my agony was hysterical and proceeded to mercilessly laugh his way across the room to his stool, continuing to smirk and snigger for a further five minutes.

I’d witnessed nastiness from children before. Yet in terms of callousness this was up there. I’d been innocently standing at the entrance to the room, sent there by a job agency to work a day of supply teaching. I was handing out the worksheets as the students came in, courteously greeting them and guiding them to their chairs. The hyena, who snatched the Science revision from my hand tearing the skin inside my index finger, was just the beginning of a very bad day. It was a day worse than a Daniel Powter song.

It was an all-boys school in some western suburb of London – one that I’ve blotted from my mind, due to the trauma. The rest of the lads lumbered into the room, each snatching their own copy of the revision notes, luckily not severing any more of my fingers. I tried to resume my stern approach as I read out the register. The class was so preoccupied with their self-absorption they refused to engage with the process and I resorted to having someone, who looked half decent, to go through the register with me. This turned out to be a useless proposition, as the student happily marked all 30 names on the register as ‘present’ despite the absence of at least ten of them from the room.

Luckily each student had a notebook with their name on it. There were a bunch of unclaimed notebooks, so I assumed these belonged to the missing students and marked them absent accordingly.

On with the lesson. I’d been left a note by the teacher informing me to show a short documentary and then spend the remaining hour and a half of the lesson letting students revise for an exam. An hour and a half was going to be a very long time for these chumps. It’s a long time for the best of us to spend in one spot. I took a deep breath and began the watch.

The screening of the documentary lasted less than three minutes due to cries of “switch it off!”, “this is boring!” and “who’s David Attenborough?”. I switched it off and set the monkeys to work on their revision.

At first they mostly got about talking to each other and avoiding any form of work. They were calm though, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt. However, twenty minutes into the sit-in, the same child who’d injured my finger began to get fidgety. He was sitting at the back of the room and I could see him begin to rock from side to side.

“Please sit still.”

“I can’t sir, it’s the stool.”

“Well let me have a look,” I said and walked towards him.

“Oh no no. It’s fine. It’s fine.”

I backed off, knowing full well that naughty boys wobble stools and not the other way round.  Every couple of minutes there’d be another creak from the back of the room.

“Please stop,” I asked again politely.

After a solid ten minutes of this stool wobbling an almighty crash came from the back of the room. Giggling and more hysteria erupted from the boys. I collected the planks of wood from what remained of the stool and placed them on the teacher’s desk.

All of a sudden the students’ tone changed. They quizzed me on what I’d do with the pieces of the stool.

“I haven’t decided yet,” was my response.

Uncertainty is sometimes the best weapon for keeping kids on their toes. If they don’t know what you’re capable of, they won’t realise how little you are actually capable of. Mostly I intended to sit quietly pondering who had the hair-brained idea of installing cheap pine furniture in a school classroom instead of sturdy welded-iron framed bottom rests.

The serenity of the student’s fear was soon disrupted again.

“It’s hot in here, sir,” gasped a melodramatic pupil. “Can I please open the window?”

Before I could decide whether or not this was a sensible decision, the paper-cutting stool-breaking offender leapt from his new seat and lurched towards the back door of the classroom.

“I’ll open the door!” he shouted.

Now, why architects and builders construct Science classrooms with two doors is beyond me. It’s probably something to do with being able to escape when something explodes. Instead it tends to act as an escape for when a student’s mind implodes from their own stupidity. They may as well replace the ‘exit’ signs above the doors with the word ‘freedom’.

Thus a game of ‘cat and mouse’ began with students at one end of the room trying to distract me while their comrades escaped from whichever alternate exit was furthest from me. After less than five minutes of this nonsense, I sent for the classroom keys and locked the back door. Fortunately, the kid I hated was outside at this point, so I was given a fifteen minute break as he slowly navigated his way around the perimeter of the school yard before entering back through the main door of the classroom.

In regards to the fire safety, well it was too bad if anything ignited. Although since it was not a practical science lesson the odds of this occurring were low. The most likely thing to set fire to anything was the data projector, but I’d turned that off when the documentary proved to be a failed teaching technique.

Settling back into my chair to keep watch I hear an anti-Semitic comment thrown across the room. This is countered by an Islamophobic remark from the opposite side of the class. All of a sudden my classroom has become the Gaza strip. Here was a bunch of teenagers mimicking the violence, they’d seen on the news, both in Palestine and in their own city. Judging by the character of the pupils, some of them may well have had older siblings or relatives involved in some sort of gang culture. I did not want to know. I’m a patient person, but this sort of crazed anger and extreme hatred is what was causing the real-world wars. I’m not employed as a government diplomat. I’m employed as a teacher and at a stretch a vicarious student counsellor. I decided to bring in the big guns and sent for the deputy head teacher.

The deputy came into the room. “Stop fooling around for your teacher. We pay good money for these teachers to come in and teach when your normal teachers are away. For every teacher that comes we pay …” and then he mentioned a figure for a daily rate, which was twice what I was being paid. So either he was lying to shock the children into submission, or I was getting a raw deal from my job agent skimming a large commission off the top. Not only did I want to get home, but according to this deputy I was being ripped off as well. I never bothered following up the salary issue. I didn’t care to know.

“You can all have half an hour detention after school,” he said.

Then he turned to me. “Will you be ok to supervise that?” he asked.

Great, I thought. I’m being short changed already and now I need to spend an extra 30 minutes keeping an eye on these nuisances.

Finally the lesson came to an end, and was then followed by two more equally traumatic sessions with a year seven and then a year eight class. Plus of course the bonus detention at the end of it all. A horrible day bookended by horrible people.

As I left the school that afternoon, and was getting my timesheet signed, the deputy principal signing my form asked how my day had been. I responded honestly.

“They were a bit of a handful,” I said. “Not much work was done and they weren’t very polite”.

“I know,” he said. “It would be great if you could come back again though. They don’t really get a consistent set of teachers here. A lot of the relief/supply staff don’t come back.”

I wonder why, I thought to myself.

“Well, I’ll have a think about it,” I said.

As soon as I was outside the school I rang the teaching agency, who’d deployed me there, and said I’d rather not attend work at that school again. They sounded unsurprised and said that would be fine. It was the only time I ever refused to go back to a school.

And if I ever was to again meet the child who damaged my finger joint, I doubt I’d resist the temptation to sever the dermis of his inner hand with a nice sharp-edged piece of cardboard.

Kid #19 – Dealing with broken dreams

The nineteenth kid I hated had aspirations of becoming the next Steven Spielberg by sulking.

I was teaching in a sixth form college in South London, covering some media classes. Some of the students were excellent in their production skills. Others were killing time. Their interest in cinema generally did not extend to the silver screen, but dwelt somewhere between Misfits and a Twisties commercial.

The kid I hated would arrive to class late, put his feet up on the furniture, answer his phone in the middle of class, talk to his friend as soon as you tried to tell the class something and for the most part had an expression so sour you’d have assumed he’d eaten a mouthful of turned raspberries. However, unlike his apathetic counter parts he did want to make films. This was part of the problem. He spent the majority of his time away from the classroom constructing ideas and hair-brained schemes for re-imagining the special effects and Shakespearean acting he had seen in Marvel superhero films (an obsession directly caused by the course’s subject material, which included the film Spiderman 2).

Sometimes when you have a sulking teenager, you begin to think it’s something you’ve done that caused the sulking. Every time I asked for the kid’s attention he appeared to become more sullen. The mere presence of me seemed to weigh down upon him like a lead trumpet.

I soon came to realise these feelings were just my own paranoia.

I spotted him in the corridor and down by the bus stop a few times. He was equally depressive then, which made me realise he was in a perpetual state of affliction. Seemingly the world had dealt him an unfair hand and if he didn’t spar against the global population of the planet singlehandedly, he’d never become the filmmaking legend he wished to be. He was a more angst-ridden version of Dawson from Dawson’s Creek, but without the girlfriends.

Then when I finally saw his finished products, I was more than underwhelmed. One featured an escaped serial killer, who looked more like a well-shaven hipster sporting a felt-tip drawn scar under his left eye. The mise en scène was less film noir and more like the cinematographer forgot to turn the light on.

Considering schools these days are normally working with equipment one hundred times better than what I used in my final year of university (less than ten years ago), it’s disappointing when you see something that looks like it’s been recorded by an ancient relative on a handy-cam in the mid-eighties. What this student produced couldn’t even be passed off as an avant-garde David Lynch recording.

These types of students are why it’s difficult for me to teach media. I don’t profess to be any sort of Stanley Kubrick myself. So it’s not particularly the incompetence that bothers me. After all it’s my job to educate and fill the gaps in learning. But the apathy and slapdash construction of the student cinematic ‘farse’terpieces is sometimes so frustrating I want to wrench them from the editing suite shouting, “Just let me do it!”. This in itself is a bad approach, which is why for the most part I’ve decided it best to avoid teaching media classes for now. And for the pupils producing perfect moving pictures, I tend to become jealous of their potential and end off wallowing in my own self-pity regarding my broken dreams of cinematic success. So my decision to steer clear of such classes remains.

So although my former media student may have snapped out of his pubescent mood, if we met again in Hollywood I doubt I’d fork out the cash to watch his productions at the cinema; I’d wait for their DVD release – and then borrow a copy for free from the public library.

Kid #18 – Dealing with stubborn children and indignation

The eighteenth kid I hated thought I had called her a racist.

She was so insistent and fierce in her accusation it was almost as though the word ‘racist’ was a racist term. Mind you, it’s fair enough to be angry about being called a racist when you are not a racist. The point was I had never called her a racist. At most I would have said, “What you have just said to your friend is racist”, which is quite different because it would have been done with the intent of raising the girl’s awareness to the fact others may perceive her misjudged humour as racism.

It is very hard to explain logical thought processes to an angry 13 year old girl. What she had originally said to her peer, I cannot remember because of the hysteria that followed. I do remember that whatever it was, she shouted it across the room. It happened in a notoriously difficult school to manage students. They had an entire room dedicated to time out during the day and telephones in every classroom for teachers to call the ‘time out’ room supervisor to retrieve various problem children.

As was the case with most of the students there, they would look for any opportunity to get out of working. Any slight against their name was the perfect excuse for going on strike. This is exactly what this child decided to do.

“You can’t call me a racist,” she screeched, throwing her chair to the floor and storming out of the classroom.

This was followed by the customary oohing and aahing from the peanut gallery. Promptly putting a kybosh on that, I continued on with the lesson. Surely the whole thing would blow over in a few minutes.

How wrong I was.

Never underestimate the stubbornness of a tantrum-prone teenager. They’ll hold the sort of grudge you may expect from the victims, of a heinous crime, against their perpetrator. Their little teenage mind will stew the matter over and over in their head, seeking out revenge at any opportune moment. They write melodramatic hate notes in their personal journals in the hope their woes will be uncovered by a nosey parent or sibling. Then they will be vindicated.

It first became evident the situation was unresolved when the young madam returned to class the following day.

“I’m not doing any work until you apologise,” she moaned for the whole class to hear.

“Apologise for what?” I responded, feigning ignorance about what she was talking about.

“You called me a racist,” she exclaimed. “Didn’t he everyone? He called me a racist. Didn’t he?”

“I didn’t call you a racist,” I said calmly. “Now, please get on with your work.”

She started scanning the room for support. The only back up she was provided with came from her fellow ‘mean girls’ producing a set of indignant scowls on their faces. They started conducting their own little sit-in at their desk, refusing en masse to complete any work. This of course did not differ greatly from their normal output, but now they had an explanation for their lack of productivity.

Again hoping the whole thing may blow over, I waited for improvement the following day. Things did not improve. She became even more demanding of an apology. And the next day the same. And the day after that.

It was now a standoff. I couldn’t apologise, even if I had done something wrong. She’d then turn it into an even bigger situation. She certainly wouldn’t get back to work.

Because of her defiance to work, she began having detention after detention. It was usually 20 minutes at the end of the day in the form classroom. She and any other punks who’d been caught out, would sit and squirm and moan for the majority of the 20 minutes before finally scampering out the door like imprisoned rats on the escape. The other students would come and go from detentions. But she was iron willed. She was not going to get back to work until there was an apology.

Finally she was taken to the Year group coordinator. He had a lengthy discussion with her about what had happened. He tried to talk her down. But just when there was a window of opportunity for her to compromise, she’d unleash into a full blown attack again lamenting how she had been defamed. It was a worthy effort at deflection and would have been award-winning if schools gave prizes for such things. Alas, they do not. But also alas, she was non-responsive to punishments or temporary removals from the room.

The term came to an end and only upon the start of the following term did she appear to have somewhat forgotten her stance. Yet within the first few lessons she was arcing up again. Probably she had been cast as Frankenstein’s monster instead of Elizabeth, in the class play; or some such oversight.

I only taught that class for a short term contract. But when it came to the end it was done. The Little Miss ‘I’m not a racist’, had been a major contributor to my distress and frustration. Never had I taught a class where I’d spent time developing rapport to then have children continue being un-cooperative.

I remember shouting at them on the last day, “I have never met such a rude and impolite group of people in all my years of teaching”. Albeit, I’d taught for less than three years at that stage – it was true they were the worst. “I’ve taught five year olds who do more work than you. I hope you’re proud that you’re dumb stupid idiots and that you can go rot in the fiery pits of hell.” (The end part may be an embellishment – I don’t think I said ‘fiery’).

I then marched out of the building, only to return two weeks later to work another day of supply teaching; thankfully covering a different class.

I’m pretty sure it was puberty that caused this girl to be so unamusing. I was assured she was quite pleasant before she turned 13. She may well be a successful something or the other by now. But if I met her again I doubt I’d give her a bar of chocolate; she’d probably misconstrue it.

Kid #17 – Compromising Contraceptives

The seventeenth kid I hated walked into my classroom unannounced and offered me a condom.

There was no context; no provocation; no boys. It was an all-girls school. Why were they carrying around condoms? Perhaps a question better left unanswered.

It was my first day teaching in a British school. So it’s a wonder I didn’t pack my bags then and go back to where I came from. My only error on that particular day was perhaps envisaging that all English schools were like Hogwarts, where the vilest female student you may come upon would be Pansy Parkinson; and I don’t imagine she ever waved a contraceptive in Dumbledore’s face.

There was a lot of expectation hanging on this first day. I’d spent at least a week living in a hostel, waiting for the call from the job agency to provide me with my first day of work as a supply/cover/relief teacher. You needed to be ready by 7am each morning to sit by your phone and wait to be sent to whichever far corner of London needed you for the day. Every morning I had woken up early, waited by the phone, headed down to the basement (with no phone reception) for breakfast at 8am, waited in line with 60 plus French students queuing up for their camp breakfast of jam on toast, finally got my own two slices of jammed toast, headed back up from the basement to find three missed calls, returned the calls only to find the jobs were now taken, eaten breakfast, and by 9am realised that I wouldn’t be working that day.

So when the call to work finally came, I was ready for action. My first big day of work in the big old city of London!

Onto the Jubilee line I went, heading on what I assumed would be a five minute journey – everyone who visits London tells you how efficient and fast the train system is. I was expecting the Underground to be some sort of TARDIS, so was rather confused when twenty minutes later the train was above ground somewhere in Zone three or four, and I was alighting into the leafy London suburbs.

Wandering down the road to the school, I couldn’t help but notice a large population of Muslims pottering about their business. I had not realised at this point how many people in London seem to cluster together with their own countrymen. The French hang out in Chelsea; Australians drink anything but Fosters in Clapham; English people drink Fosters everywhere else; Jamaicans enjoy Lambeth; New Zealanders complain about coffee in Kilburn; Indians keep everyone well fed in Harrow; and so forth.

Seeing so many pleasant looking Muslim families put me at ease. Many of the women were wearing headscarves and if they were like my Muslim friends back home, they’d have a good heart and moral compass. And so it was, that I erroneously let my guard down. I had already learnt in Australia that students at Catholic schools can rebel just as strong as non-religious students. I don’t know why I thought the Muslim students would be any different.

The school itself was not religious. But there was such a high percentage of Muslim students that the entire school menu was Halal and good value to boot. I remember being quite excited that it was a mere £2 for a full plate of curry. In light of this my optimism naively continued.

When I entered the school I was asked to teach five sessions of Mathematics. Walking into the first class it became evident that I should not fall back on any assumptions that the children with nice religious upbringings would be any more respectful than the rest of them. Their headscarves were all akimbo, they slouched in their seats and wore a variety of scowls on their phizogs.

I began the lesson. Students began talking over me asking questions about why they had to work when their normal teacher wasn’t there; where was my accent from; and how long until the lesson finished. This was going to be a long day with a discount curry somewhere in the middle.

Most of the day went along smooth enough. I went for the ‘make sure nobody leaves their chair or get injured’ approach, which is not strong on learning time but big on survival. Students responded positively and there was no animosity. I started to relax again. Four lessons down and one to go. Then the real clincher came.

It was a group of Year 11 students – presumably the ones who had lofty aspirations of sponging off their parents into their mid-thirties. You could tell this was the case, because of the vacant expression behind their over mascaraed eyes, their overuse of the word ‘like’ and their cheap costume jewellery (I realise that’s an oxymoron – but I want to emphasise the cheapness). Their superficialness was only surpassed by their subtlety in sending text messages to each other without being noticed. Normally you can spot the kid who’s holding their phone just under the desk, dropping it into their lap or with their hand permanently fixed inside their pencil case. Initially they’ll look around the room a bit and engage in trivial questioning to put you off the scent. Then eventually they’ll surrender to the need for self-validation through social media and begin fiercely punching away at their screen, thus giving up the charade.

These Year 11 girls, however, were stoic. I had no idea they had been messaging each other until three girls barged their way into the classroom and sat down at one of the desks to begin gossiping with their friends. When asked where they had come from and why they were there, they rudely ignored the question and continued on. I’d never encountered such a blasé attitude and disregard. I genuinely was unsure what to do. There was only 20 minutes left of my day at the school, but it was going to be a long 20 minutes if I didn’t do something about it.

One of the other students kindly volunteered the information that girls from another class had been messaging the girls in my class to let them know that they too had a relief teacher. This explained why they had so easily escaped from the room where they should have been. I at least had managed to contain my students within their classroom. The problem was I now had students I didn’t need contained with the classroom.

After the revelation of this information and another student informing me that there was a school security officer who could remove them, two of the three girls got the scare and scampered back to the other room. The final girl remained.

I offered her the chance to leave peacefully and began walking towards the door to open it for her. My plan being to stand at the doorway with a kind hand gesturing towards the hallway for her to leave.

Just before I got to the door, she jumped from her seat. Flying across the room, she flung herself between me and the door, then stood with her spine hard against the exit. I should have opened the door before telling her what her options were. Now I was stumped. I didn’t know how to contact the school ‘security officer’. It also seemed unfair to prompt the other girls for any more information about it, because they were already becoming the target of some mild ridicule from their peers for ‘snitching’.

I was starting to work up a sweat; and not from being unused to the mild heatwave of a London summer. The girl then pulled from her pocket the square foil packet containing the birth control device. She waved the condom in my face so all the other students could see.

“Do you want a condom?” she cackled.

It was the cackle teenage girls give to older men when they think the male they’re talking to spends most of his time residing in a monastery carving wooden toys and ordering take out with other monks. They have that condescending tone where they presume a man, who is simply doing his job by teaching arithmetic, is completely asexual and wouldn’t know a pharmacy from a porn shop let alone know what a condom is. They hope by being overtly sexual that the gentleman will surrender himself to her and leave him wide open for litigation.

Or maybe the girl simply had a condom in her pocket and didn’t know what to do with it.

Either way, this was not an interesting problem solving exercise to undertake on my first day of teaching in a new country. It was a headache. Not to mention the ramifications for getting embroiled in some sort of lawsuit while working overseas.

Luckily the problem was solved for me. The security officer arrived and made some light hearted joke with the child in question. Whether or not that joke was appropriate, I don’t recall. But that is by the by. The main thing was he managed to remove her. Easy of course for him to deal with behaviour management in a laissez-faire manner; he didn’t need to teach them how to find the square root of anything.

The main thing taken away from this whole experience was to guard the door and don’t let anything get between you and the door.

There was no malice behind what the girl did; she was just a jovial juvenile with a Johnny in her jacket. But if we met again in a sex education class, I doubt I’d get her to demonstrate the sheathing of the banana.

Kid #16 – A hyperactive attention seeker

The sixteenth kid I hated told me London had kebab shops, just before I moved to the UK.

I told him there were kebab shops in Perth, Western Australia. Perhaps he’d never been to the Australian ones because the best were only available past his bedtime.

To be honest, I didn’t really hate this kid at all. He was just a massive handful. If anything, I feared him. Feared how he might lead to my undoing as a qualified professional.

He was the ringleader of his 16 year old counterparts and their horseplay. I was left to babysit them under the guise of teaching them remedial English. The content of the coursework needed heavy dressing up to provide any engagement. Mostly it was a battle of wits between myself and the wannabe gangsters with their varied attempts to twist situations to their advantage.

One such win on their part involved the screening of a film about football fan violence in a West Ham football firm. The kid, in my class, had recently moved to Australia from Manchester. He had a thick accent and would regale his comrades with stories about the rough streets where he’d grown up – hence his referencing of kebab shops I suspect. In reality he probably grew up in a respectable suburb where his mother wouldn’t have allowed him out the house after 4pm. Lucky for him the rest of the cohort had not been further than the nearest Shopping Centre since birth; and their only experiences of gang culture would have been standing dopily in large groups inside Big W during Thursday late night shopping. So the rest of the class hung on his every word.

When he proclaimed the movies I was asking the class to study as ‘boring’, he raised the suggestion of Green Street Hooligans. This was a clear attempt to fool the other students into thinking he’d been part of a violent football firm himself, despite this anarchic culture having being at its height in the 1970s and 80s, well before his birth; and for that matter mine. Nevertheless I found a copy of the film in the bargain bin at the local DVD store and showed it to the students. They thoroughly enjoyed it and then bam I gave them a series of tasks and tests relating to the film. Seemingly unexhausted from the analysis I forced them into, they requested to watch Green Street Hooligans 2 and Green Street Hooligans 3. I refused on the grounds that Elijah Wood did not appear in the sequels. Even if he had, I had frankly seen enough of Frodo Baggins falling in with the wrong crowd to put me off any non-hobbit related outings by Mr Wood.

As if this student’s penchant for screen violence wasn’t bad enough – he also wanted us to watch Gran Torino, a film full of racial violence and Clint Eastwood – the student also insisted on pestering young staff members about their marital status. The less he was told, the more speculative the pestering became. On one occasion a young female staff member entered the classroom, at which point the kid I hated claimed I was blushing. This was awkward for the other staff member also. I told the child to stop projecting his infantile mating rituals onto his teachers. He did not take my advice.

About a month later he began concocting an elaborate conspiracy about myself and another male teacher being in a relationship (conspiracies had become all the rage again. It was around the time of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 so the media was whipping up a new frenzy of conspiracies at the time). Accusations of homosexuality were water off a ducks back to me, in comparison to the persecution I’d been subjected to as Harry Potter’s long lost brother. My colleague, however, was getting the interrogating questions and relentless earbashing worse than me. A curious fact, considering he didn’t even teach this imbecile of a person. So after weeks of wearing down our heterosexual standing with aspersions of doubt cast upon it, my colleague finally snapped, stating publicly that both he and I were dating separate female people and were most definitely not gay.

This of course opened a whole new line of questioning in regards to the nature of our dating partners. So the oppression never really ended.

This student was going too far. He was getting more and more obnoxious. He’d convinced me to show the class films that psychopaths may watch during their leisure time. All of a sudden I was thinking it normal to include episodes of Australian true-crime series Underbelly or the Will Ferrell and Mark Walberg buddy cop comedy film The Other Guys in my teaching of the English Curriculum. In addition, he now knew various sordid details of the fabricated events in my non-existent romantic relationship. Knowledge was power, and his file on me was getting bigger.

To aggravate matters further, the back wall of the classroom adjoined the room my head of department taught classes in. The student drew great pleasure from rocking his chair back to slam into the wall and disturb the other class. Luckily his reputation preceded him and the head of department was on him like a rash to stop it. His persistence with the chair banging charade, encouraged his flock of buffoon disciples to follow suit, eventually forcing me to move the entire set of desks two metres forward from the back wall. At this point, I was then forced up against the whiteboard with barely enough room to rotate my body and press the playback button on whatever crime thriller we were about to watch next.

It wasn’t just myself he caused grief for. He also clearly didn’t realise how annoying he was. Even after he had been told in no uncertain terms. He’d begun an apprenticeship two days a week at a local cabinet makers. Each week, when he returned to the classroom, he’d blather on about how he’d spent most of the time relaxing in the corner and passing his boss the wrong tools. He was learning little or nothing about work ethic from this apprenticeship. It also turned out that when he was at the worksite he blathered even more than in the classroom. I know this, because he proudly announced to us one day how his boss had become so agitated by the incessant babbling, he had grabbed the student and pushed him to the floor and given him a stern talking to. I remember thinking at the time, how nice it would be if we could do the same thing to our students every once in a while; albeit I don’t have the upper body strength. Nevertheless, the student learnt nothing from the dressing down. His quest in life was not to make cabinets but to make headaches for the grownups that surrounded him.

Despite the nonsense, there were times when the young lad was certainly an entertaining fellow. If you weren’t in a position of authority, I’m sure he’d have made a loyal friend.

When I finally left the school, I did not tell any of the students until the final week. This was due in most part to my fear of the delinquent class this child belonged to. If they knew I was about to leave, they would have gone from doing stuff all to doing whatever comes below that. So it was to my surprise that upon hearing of my departure on the final day of term, the student exclaimed that I should have told him earlier so he could have organised a proper farewell. In true cavalier style he jumped from his chair and rushed down to the English office to request some card. There was none. He returned with an A3 piece of paper which was neatly folded in half and passed around the room in front of me for the worst kept secret signing of a card I’ve witnessed. But it is always the sentiment. Even if that sentiment comes from a place of avoiding more essay writing. The kind words of well wishing, demands for Facebook friend requests, and usual misspellings of my name are still kept in that prided card now sitting on my bookshelf (or in the trash. I can’t remember exactly). There may even have been mention in the card of a recommended kebab shop

So if I ever meet this child again on a high street somewhere, at 2am in the morning, with a craving for E coli in a wrap, I know I’ll chip in a couple of pounds so he can get extra topping on his shredded lamb and salad snack; because sometimes there are kids I tolerated.

Kid #15 – How a silly name might affect your child.

The fifteenth kid I hated had a misspelt name.

Names can be spelt whichever which way people prefer, one would suppose. But you know the sort of names that everyone spells one way and then some chump parent decides to reinvent the wheel and add an extra vowel, replace an ‘i’ with a ‘y’ or spell the entire thing backwards. This child had one of those names. He won’t be named here, but it was similar to when ‘Geoffrey’ is spelt ‘Jeffrey’; or ‘Ashley’ is spelt ‘Ashleigh’; or ‘Sam’ is spelt ‘Psam’; or ‘Polly’ is spelt ‘Potato’.

Long story short, his name had been incorrectly constructed. If it had been spelt correctly it would have been close in meaning to ‘doing the right thing for the greater good’. Unfortunately this was not reflected in the child’s personality.

At first glance, he was a very charming child. All smiles and “how are you sir?”, “what can I do to help sir?” etc. He participated in class discussions and completed most of his work efficiently. Perhaps he was too smart for the other students or had some attention deficit. Either way, the pleasantries soon started to change in tone. They didn’t disappear. But there appeared to be a cunning flicker behind the fire in his eyes.

He was a Year Eight student, which at the time meant it was his first year at high school. He was exuding a particular over-confidence which was perhaps to intimidate his peers. While his contemporaries looked like deer in the headlights, he began to strut around as though he was Riff from West Side Story. He was the ‘the Fonz’ of Year 8. The boys steered clear of him and the girls swooned.

And then there was all the weird stuff where I assume he was trying to find his true self. For example he painted his finger nails and wore eyeliner. Also the more the girls swooned, the more camp he became, which did not seem to deter them in the slightest. Additionally, this was all happening around the time Hug a Ginger Day, National Kick a Ranga Day and Say Sorry to a Ranga Day was becoming a big thing (it is still a big thing, right?). So life was confusing. So confusing he dyed his hair jet black.

But chameleon tendencies were merely a mask for his thinly veiled contempt for the system. As he became more and more preoccupied with his vanity, he became less and less occupied with the task at hand. The quality of his work began to slip. His attitude towards anyone who wasn’t a female 13-year-old, became loathsome. It was all eye-rolling, slouched shoulders and foot dragging.

When I confronted him on his manners, that’s when things would escalate. He’d get his usual warnings. Then it would be a move to an isolated desk at the front of the room. Sometimes the desk was moved into the hallway. He’d usually be asked to move the chair, which would result in a lot of banging and clanging, while he made sure the chair ricocheted off every hard piece of furniture in his path.

It was the real, “I don’t care what you do to me, because everybody hates me,” attitude.

I suppose he was, what someone from the mid-noughties may have called, an ‘Emo’ (emotional human being). I don’t know what name these characters go by currently.

Placing a agitated bald eagle in a cardboard box would have been easier than trying to get this child to work. I tried all sorts; complimenting him on his dubious appearance; scolding him about his attitude; commending him on his insightful arguments; giving him the death whisper when he spoke out of turn. Nothing was working.

Most other staff had trouble with him, too. He had trouble with himself. The world was against him. There was a chip on his shoulder threatening to tear through the cheap fabric of the tight-fitting T-shirts he presumably wore on weekends. If he wasn’t looking into a mirror, he was looking out of one wondering why everyone surrounding him enjoyed life and didn’t reflect the melancholy vibes back to him. Basically it was your usual run-of-the-mill teen angst, but with skinny jeans and a misshapen haircut.

His moaning defiant self-awareness haunted my dreams. He was the child who was getting under my skin. Maybe it was because I had seen his full potential in the first instance, and was upset about his decline in attitude. More likely it was the constant distraction and disruption he was causing to the classroom as his fashion sense became more outrageous and his attention seeking quips about everything from politics to narrative plot structure became the entire focus of the class. I wondered whether things would have been different had his parents given him a sensible name like ‘John’.

I was losing control. All because of one puny post-punk.

The inevitable outcome is a bit blurry. I think eventually I went for the old fashioned trick of turning some of the other students against him, so he’d pull into line. There was still a select bunch he would listen to.

It was early days for my teaching though. I’m getting better at spotting these characters; the ones who begin high school looking like they’re out of a Pumpkin Patch catalogue, then three months later look as though they’ve been kicked out of a Lady Gaga concert, with an attitude to match Justin Bieber’s pet monkey.

If I had my time again I’d probably be more compassionate to the child’s self-pity and provide better boundaries. But if we met again, I doubt I’d swap Fall Out Boy albums with him.