Kid #14 – The Wizard in the Hallway

The fourteenth kid I hated yelled “expelliarmus!” at me from the corridor. Not to be outdone I yelled “alohomora!” which only unlocked a filing cabinet. So then I yelled “crucio!” which unleashed intense pain on my victim. I later double checked the spell in my spell book (and on Wikipedia) to realise using this spell leads to a life sentence in Azkaban prison. But I don’t think anyone saw me.

These are the trials and tribulations of being a white middle class male who wears black rimmed spectacles. I don’t have a scar on my forehead, but I do have a scar on my chin from when I fell on a limestone wall in Pre Primary. When I first started teaching, students would question my age, claiming I looked as though I’d gone straight from Year 12 into the classroom as a teacher; without having been to University in between. Being told you look younger than you are may be a compliment in any other circumstance, but when you’re trying to wrangle teenagers, you want them to at least think you’ve got ten years more life experience than them. A wise colleague once told me to grow a beard as a method for stretching the age gap. It worked for a while, but by the time my beard had grown properly it was 2010, and Daniel Radcliffe was already collecting the Deathly Hallows while sporting his own grubby stubble. Thus my attempts to distance myself from this fictional prodigy wizard had backfired and I was one golden snitch away from becoming Harry Potter himself.

It became an ongoing whisper in every new classroom I entered. “He looks like Harry Potter”; “OMG it’s Harry Potter”; “Harry Potter”.

Had it not been my supposed resemblance to Harry Potter, it would presumably have been something else the children would cause me grief over. Students are always looking for something. I remember when we were students it would be everything from mimicking our teachers’ accents and nervous ticks, to critiquing their choice of fashion or poking fun at the volume of hair on their chest. Teenagers find a way to be cruel no matter the attempts to neutralise.

Despite being an adult, when a teenager pokes fun at you to your face or from a distance, you revert to similar defences you had as a child. Mine was usually to ignore the bullies. As an adult you tell yourself that children don’t mean anything personally and they’re just bored or trying to distract you.

This works for a while until you begin to take it personally. Like the time a student asked why the tongues of my shoes were sitting over the bottom of my trouser legs, instead of vice versa. There’s nothing worse than getting fashion advice from fashionable teenagers. Even if your fashion is fashionable those judging staring all-knowing eyes of the youth will cut through your soul, because they are fashion. The attempts to ‘ignore the bully’ turn to anger. Their remarks are met with “Be quiet and get on with your work”.

Other times you may fight their abuse with logic, “Well if you’ve seen the latest Russell and Bromley range you’ll know they’re worn in this way”. This of course will be met with, “Russell Who?”, a smirk and a snigger.

Trying to make a game of it lasts for a short while. Embracing the Harry Potter persona by raising my pen as a wand often garnered some attention and cooperation. The unknowing nature of the intellectually challenged students, meant that they saw me as unpredictable. They questioned whether the fountain pens in my top drawer really could leave them with a mutilated limb or a head replaced by that of an animal. However, soon enough the intrigue turns to disappointment and they realised the only sparks flying from the nib of the wand pen would be congealed lumps of blue ink.

The last resort worked the best. I got contact lenses (A different pair of less rounded brown framed glasses did not work – apparently all glasses look like Harry Potter glasses on a short haired male in his early twenties). Removing the glasses altogether did nothing for me in the school where I was already working. The kiddily-winks saw straight through it. But entering new schools in the years to follow meant they would know me only as the short-haired white middle-class male who did not resemble Daniel Radcliffe in the slightest. They of course found a new feature to pick upon. I think it was my vague resemblance to a famous footballer I’d never heard of. Probably the weedy one who never goes to the gym and watches American sitcom DVD boxsets.

There is no winning.

In regards to the child who cast his spell through the doorway of my Year 11 English classroom, I never saw him again after that. He was not one of my students. But the fits of hysterics, he sent my students into, haunt me every time I wear my spectacles upon my face.

So although he was probably joking as he lumbered down the hallway that fateful day, if we met again I doubt I’d offer him any of my chocolate frogs.

Kid #13 – The Army Cadet

The thirteenth kid I hated was an army cadet. This is not why I hated him.

Being an army cadet is certainly not a hanging offence. In fact nothing is a hanging offence in schools because capital (sic corporal) punishment was pushed out of most Australian and European schools at least by the end of the eighties. I daren’t say all because, for example, Nollamara Christian Academy in Western Australia only removed the corporal element of punishment from their behaviour strategy at the beginning of this academic year. 1 Yet are we surprised when the motto of the school is “enter to learn…go forth to serve”? When the Egyptian slaves went about ‘serving’ they got a good beating; as did the slaves of Essos across the Narrow Sea; and the Wookiees who built the Death Star.

But I digress. This child did not require any heavy handed tactics. Even if I had, I imagine his army training would have given him the upper hand if I had entered into a combat situation with him. Army cadets are not to be messed with. I remember when I was at school someone turned up to school one day with a massive curved scar on one cheek. He’d been at an army cadet training camp and forgot to open his can of baked beans before putting it on the fire. The can exploded and opened his face instead. At the time it seemed pretty hard-core. Honestly, it’s still would be pretty hard-core if someone took out half their face with a tin can. If this was the damage an army cadet could do to themselves when they weren’t trying to injure someone, I wasn’t game to test my hated student to see what damage he’d do when he was trying.

Luckily the only time he turned up to school with his army uniform, and any semblance of a weapon (he was holding a wooden flag pole with blunted ends), was when the ANZAC Day march was held. Presumably he’d been trained to use a gun, but had he requested to bring that for the occasion I imagine he’d be declined under the strict Occupational Health and Safety regulations. This is the sort of nanny-state age we live in. No 21-gun-salute for these teenagers – which is fair enough considering the only warzone they’d ever experience is in Call of Duty: World at War facing an onslaught of Zombies.

Of course, it was not all the flag waving and fanfare that caused this child to be an ache in the bottom. It was because, the only thing he wished to cooperate with was flag waving and fanfare. If he was asked to write some words or complete a worksheet he refused. Worse still he acted as though he was above it. He was a leader among cadets and did not have time for trivial grammatical and punctuation matters when his queen and country needed his service for the protection of the free. The faint sound of gunshots, in distant lands over the sea, was calling him; and subordinate clauses would be of no use to him when his regiment would need nothing more than one word commands; ‘fire’, ‘hold’, ‘attack’ etc.

The other students had little time for him. They saw him neither as a threat or a potential victim for their chiding. He had fortressed his emotion in an iron-cast strong-hold and saw all others as subordinates. When he wasn’t condescending you with his words, he would have that suspicious look in his eye telling you he doubted whatever you said.

So, what to do with such a child?

The general approach was to counter all the negativity with smiles, positivity, encouragement and feigned interest (disguised as genuine interest) in his alternative life as an army cadet. He also knew a thing or two about computers, so every so often I’d humour him and get him to demonstrate something technical to me. Playing to his narcissism usually resulted in the completion of one or two extra sentences of writing during a one hour English lesson. It became a game of concentration to avoid retaliating to his confrontational mood with further confrontation. A lot of deep breathing was required to maintain a calm diplomatic disposition when dealing with this aspiring army commander. He was always one step away from confusing a polite instruction for an insult; or confusing the school bell for a call to arms.

The kind, caring and humouring approach worked successfully for the most part with this child. The ANZAC Day march was a fine example of this. I’d never seen him look prouder to be part of something. His chest was puffed out in pride as he marched for his country, leading the parade around the school gymnasium. He was calm, centred and transcended his usual paranoid state. It took every inch of restraint to stop myself from sliding an analytical essay under his nose to see how he’d react. Perhaps his place truly was providing allegiance to the troops and not writing analysis of Dickensian literature. Perhaps institutionalised education was not for him. Perhaps it was another institution. Perhaps it was the Army.

So although I came to respect this child for the military officer he was, if we met again in the trenches I doubt I’d walk ahead of him. I’d walk behind. Always behind, with my gun cocked, ready for him to turn at any time.

1 Last WA school using corporal punishment forced to end practice from next term – ABC News Jan 7, 2015 (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-01-07/last-school-to-cease-corporal-punishment-in-wa/6004992)

Kid #12 – When manual arts go mad

The twelfth kid I hated fashioned a piece of sheet metal into the shape of a penis and testicles; then placed it on my desk.

I’ve not taught metal work, because my background is in English teaching. However, the odd time when I’ve covered a manual arts class, I’ve been left to complete worksheets with the children, as I myself am presumably uninsured or unqualified to supervise such activities. This said, it would seem the child in question had been permitted enough time to operate heavy machinery unaided, and create this metallic piece of genitalia; or perhaps he had been aided and had managed to convince his metal-work teacher, he had created a silhouette of a banana and plums. The latter seems less likely.

And so it was that with ten minutes remaining of a lesson, I went to place my Macbeth play script on my desk and looked down to find the sausage and meatballs in question. Not being very good at disguising surprise, the students could tell straight away that I had clocked it. The giggling started straight away. What was I to do? The tin trouser snake was quite large. Too large to use as a bookmark. Even if I used a World Book encyclopaedia, the end of the junk would be sticking out making the book look like a shrunken pair of speedos on an Australia Prime Minister.

I did the only sensible thing left to any teacher in this situation. I raised the offending item above my head and asked the class who had placed it on my desk. No response. But then the usual threat of, “We will all be here in your own time until somebody owns up,” seemed to do the trick. Fingers began pointing across the room to a small blonde boy who had an inferiority complex.

This same child had been seen on occasion sitting diligently next to his mother in church on Sundays, carrying shopping to the family car and being a general pillar of the community. But his behaviour in school was the complete opposite and usually consisted of what can only be described as some sort of voluntary Tourette’s syndrome. At any given moment in class when the attention from his peers waned, out would come the expletives. These were closely followed by a knowing smirk, making quite clear this was not a medical condition.

While his mother may have been unaware of the double life he led, he of course realised that I was more than aware; so aware in fact that he confessed to his crime right away.

In hindsight, what happened next is regrettable. But also apt.

The class was on edge as to what would happen next, wondering how this act of defiance would be swiftly remedied. When there’s expectation of serious consequence; for what is mostly tomfoolery that overstepped the mark; it’s sometimes best to bring things down a notch, while still maintaining the upper hand.

I asked the boy to walk to the front of the room and handed him his cold hard manhood (metal manhood, that he had made in manual arts – let’s be clear on that). He then asked how long he had to stand at the front of the room showing his steel plated privates.

Now, less because I needed to teach him a lesson, but more because the lesson on Shakespeare’s Macbeth had run five minutes short that day, I responded by telling him to stay there until the bell rang for break.

It was a very long and awkward five minutes that ensued, but an important point was made; even if I did have to thwart his odd attempt to place the metal cut-out near his forehead – because of course that would be going too far.

When the bell rang, the class were dismissed, hopefully taking their shame with them, but not taking the metal penis with them.

The inevitable outcome for the hand carved gonads is long forgotten. Most likely they were handed back to the metal work teacher so a year seven or eight student could re-sculpt them into a candle holder for their aunty.

It’s conceivable that everyone, including myself, learnt something about anatomy, Elizabethan theatre and humiliation that day. Being marginally more experienced than I was back then, I would probably avoid the public shaming part and privately shame him in front of his mother. Hopefully he’s matured since then and is now a sensible construction worker using his metal work skills for good. This said, if we ever met while I was building a new home, I doubt I’d get him to do any welding for fear of a phallic flue being fixed to my fireplace,

Kid #11 – The perfect fallback for your average deliquent

The eleventh kid I hated wasn’t even in my class. He probably had what the professionals might call oppositional defiant disorder.

The most delightful element of his less than complex personality was his belief that if he disengaged hard enough, he’d be returned to New Zealand and work on his uncle’s sheep farm. If he showed the same application he was currently showing, to the sheep, he’d be lucky to find the sheep in the first place – let alone all the dredging, mustering, tailing, shearing, slaughtering etc.

He struggled a lot with simple tasks like sitting in a chair or holding a pen. He spoke a lot. However, to my knowledge the sounds of human words differ greatly to that of sheep; so inter-species communication was going to be of little use if he returned to the south island. I’m pretty sure being a sheep whisperer is not a thing; with the exception of Babe. But Babe was a fictional porcine creature, so that doesn’t count.

During my off-lessons the young lad would often come by the office and knock on the door. Usually when I was right in the middle of an exciting reading session of Two Weeks With the Queen.

“Excuse me sir,” he’d say.

“Why are you here again?” I’d splutter, sending flecks of instant coffee from lips – (I have written this last sentence for affect, not because I drink coffee).

“I was sent out of class again”.

“By who?” I’d enquire.

“I don’t know”.

“What do you mean, you don’t know? You’ve been in Year Nine for five months now! Go sit outside the office where I can see you”.

The last piece of rant didn’t happen out loud. The reality was I’d usually sit him down and try to complete some activity with him. He’d spend twenty minutes taking a lid off a pen and talking about his uncle, then it was onto the next class.

Not long after this mutual disinterest in each other had strengthened, I was asked to run a separate group with some of the “naughty boys”. There were only three boys, but one of course was the aspiring Farmer Brown.

We were set up in one of the side rooms of the school library. The natural daylight had been minimised by narrow windows, furnishings were minimalistic and I only allowed each student their reading book in the room. You must however remember the student struggled with chairs. So as per all the other classrooms in the school, this learning space also had chairs. It’s amazing how many times a person can fall awkwardly from a stable four legged seat when they don’t want to read page 54 of Tomorrow When The War Began. Perhaps it was the lack of woolly farm animals in John Marsden’s post-apocalyptic world that led to this. But again I would argue that, at the very least, straddling a stationery stool would be solid practise for rounding up sheep on a high speed bike. Yet this of course assumes the child had moved past his previous misconception that he may be able to adopt a comprehensible sheep dialect; and would merely negotiate the sheep into their appropriate holding pens. It was inevitable, one day, he’d be confronted with the proposition of doing some actual work while riding a bike to round up sheep and in an act of work-avoidance slide from the seat onto the burning hot exhaust pipe before falling under the wheel, where he’d be left with tyre marks across his chest.

It was at times when he avoided simple tasks, such as sitting, that Marsden’s dystopia – we were reading about – appeared an attractive alternative to the dystopia of the reading session taking place. The rest of the group weren’t much better than him. What with reading the book upside down, not knowing words and staring out the windows – that looked onto the underside of the tin verandah – it was any wonder we managed to physically open the cover, from the pages, in the first place.

The problem for these types of students is they are not learning how to develop a work ethic. They’ve developed a romanticised view of life on the land (or down a mineshaft, or inn a trade, or whatever the case may be) being easier than working a desk job where they may need to sit in a chair or write something.

Now I’ve watched a lot of McLeod’s Daughters – every episode in fact bar episode fifteen of the fourth series, which I forgot to set the VCR to record – and Claire McLeod and the subsequent daughters spent a fair percentage of their time sitting behind old Jack McLeod’s writing desk, completing paperwork and finding hidden chests containing old trousseaus and manacles. None of these tasks could have been completed without a solid understanding of mathematics and writing, nor without a committed work ethic.

Perhaps this young man could have learnt some sage lessons from the women of Drover’s Run and would have realised his own dreams of inheriting his uncle’s agricultural empire. Alas, Mcleod’s Daughters completed its eight year run in 2008 – two years before the boy entered my life. By this time I’d recorded over the tapes with episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.

Somehow things may have been different if he’d just taken a leaf out of Kid #4’s book and “calmed his farm”. Had this been done to his metaphorical farm, the actual farm he longed to work on may have been his.

That’s not to say he didn’t make it back to New Zealand. He may be there now with his tar pot in hand, waiting in demand.

But if I did meet him after a hard day on the boards of the shearing shed, I doubt I’d buy him a cold one down the pub.

Kid #10 – The kid who wasn’t there

The tenth kid I hated was never there.

For the first four months I taught him, I assumed he was a misprint on my register. Two months into teaching his Year 10 English class, I asked the administration staff whether he needed to be removed from the roll. I was informed he had been enrolled and the department were trying to track him down.

The department are trying to track him down? I thought to myself. How hard can it be? Is this kid the modern day Frank Abagnale of Year 10? Were we about to find him performing laparoscopic surgery at Royal Perth Hospital?

Yes, very, yes and no – respectively.

It turned out he had been spending time with his aunts and uncles in Geraldton, a major coastal port city, 400 kilometres north of Perth. Presumably he had not been attending school up there; otherwise he would have been registered on the state school database. Nor did I imagine his aunts and uncles had been providing him with the necessary pedagogical environment to further his academic education.

Things would have been a lot easier if his family had at least scrawled on a piece of paper letting the school know he had metaphorically (or actually) “gone fishing” – no doubt a rewarding decision considering he was mostly absent during rock lobster season.

When the child finally turned up, sometime in May, the other students treated him like a spectacle. His mere presence was excuse for distraction. They of course wanted to ask all the questions adults were too polite to ask. Worse than that, he was given some god-like status for his ability to have thwarted the system for so long without repercussion.

Having no background information on the child at this point, and knowing he had missed four months of learning, I started him off on Monday with a series of short Year 10 grammar exercises. Even with the teaching assistant watching over him, he struggled to string much together verbally, let alone write it down. By Friday, I had worked him down to Year 6 work, which was still not much easier than drawing blood from a stone.

The following Monday he was gone again.

I never saw him again. Ever.

Truancy for any reason is bad news. Whether or not a parent has their own views on the school system as an institutionalised whole, is irrelevant. Truanting is bound to cause an unhealthy cycle of avoidance from any future life obstacles. Additionally staying at home seems fun for a while, but inevitably there’s only so many times you can watch re runs of The Big Bang Theory, before you end up with Sheldon Cooper’s social skills minus the science doctorates.

Additionally for the child I had in my class, the root cause of his transience across the state of Western Australia, was most likely due to his Aboriginal culture. Sure, the government bureaucrats will say it’s because the indigenous people have substance abuse problems, health problems, teen pregnancy, negative school experiences and the list goes on; but there is the ever undeniable displacement of the aboriginal people which caused the problem back in January 1788.

The Aboriginal children I’ve worked with, have been nothing short of enthusiastic. There is always a strong sense of family and community. Sometimes a family may take their children to a completely different part of the countryside for a family funeral or major cultural event that involves ceremonies lasting days or even weeks. The unfortunate thing is, in the now changed and modern world it’s not always practical to rely entirely on this structure for your children’s future. Time out of school may cost them their future. There needs to be engagement between the Aboriginal communities and the school systems.

The wise and unprejudiced Australian leader Tony Abbott placed student attendance officers in some of the most rural parts of Australia at the beginning of 2014. (Not before re-allocating funds from pre-existing attendance strategies in schools1). The West Australian journalist Angela Pownall outlined how in early 2014 a government entourage followed some of these attendance officers around as they politely knocked on each of the doors of each of the homes of each of the students in Carnarvon – a coastal town situated over 450 kilometres north of Geraldton.

When the officers attended the homes there was “no response at the first two houses”; “a Year 8 student’s father is getting ready to leave for work while his daughter is still in bed”, because the daughter was “up until the early hours playing on her phone”; plus officers “carry a megaphone, mainly so they can use its high-pitched sound to ward off unfriendly dogs”.

The problem is complex and the solution is not on this blog.

But next time I head down the jetty, with my fishing rod, I doubt I’ll invite the kid I taught for one week of 52 – I probably wouldn’t be able to find him in the first place.

1Local Action to tackle truancy, Angela Pownall, Weekend West – February 8 2014

Kid #9 – Fast food, moods and fones

The ninth kid I hated confused her father for a food delivery van. An easy mistake for any teenager whose mood would swing as easily as an arachnid hanging from a thread below an exhaust fan.

One minute she’d be the virtuous student, completing all her work, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, contributing to class discussions, helping to carry things and so forth. At other times you’d be lucky to get within ten metres of her without being hit by a spray of contumelious expletives. When she decided not to work, she would pout and erase her memory of anything academic. Often, her petulance would become so consuming, she’d be one step from regressing into a thumb-sucking ball of disgrace.

All of this changing between good and bad, was complimented by an ongoing truancy. The amount of sick days she was taking would put Ferris Bueller to shame. And where you may think it would be hard to hate someone who isn’t there, her absence made it all the more worse. The fear was ever present that at any moment she may return, revitalised from roaming the suburban streets of Perth with her goons for the past week. She would always arrive back with a stronger displeasure of the system, a bigger chip on her shoulder and, most importantly, armed with her mobile phone.

The phone would be my undoing.

Mobile phones are my kryptonite professionally and personally. During my second year of university I insisted on using the landline phones in the student newsroom for assignments. It was only after a solid three months playing phone-tag with the subjects of my soft news articles, I succumbed to the power of the portable handset. It was the early 2000’s. Flip phones were at their height of popularity. So, taking my ever pragmatic approach to phones, I unofficially adopted my parent’s Nokia 3210 as my own. (That little metallic red phone would serve me monochromatically for a further five years until it flew from my pocket onto the garden pathway as I jumped to retrieve one of my thongs from a roof gutter – but that’s another tale).

My point is, when it comes to phones, I hate mobile telephones second only to the soon-to-be-adult people who brandish them brazenly in classrooms around the globe. There have been stories of: teachers collecting phones in a bucket as students enter the room; the installing of devices that disable any network coverage within school premises; or, as one lecturer led me to believe, a school in South Africa collecting all the students phone numbers, forcing them to wear their phones on a lanyard, and then using an SMS notification system to text students homework and other general business, thus rendering the phones as fun as an Advanced Calculus textbook.

Unfortunately most teachers are not privy to such technological tricks – like buckets. Most dialogue with students is as follows:

Teacher – “Please put your phone away.”

Student – “But I’m messaging my mother.”

Teacher – “Please put the phone away.”

Student – “I’m doing it.”

Teacher – “Please put the phone away.”

Student – “I’m just finishing the message, otherwise my mother will worry.”

My naivety and own general incompetence with phones led me to believe until quite recently that this was the case. It was revealed to me by a parent, not many years apart from myself, that when teenagers say they are texting a parent, they are normally just messaging a friend in another classroom – or in a fit of lunacy, they are messaging a friend within the same classroom.

It had always seemed strange to me that parents would want direct contact with their child in the classroom, listening to the every whim and woe of their ungrateful offspring. Back in the day, you’d split your head open on a limestone paving stone and be lucky if a staff member had the foresight to send another student to the front office for the school secretary to flick through the lever arch of parent contacts and call home, only to have the phone ring out because your mother was down at Woolworths, and leave a message with your father’s secretary that he’d only receive in time for you to have bled out. They were the good old days, where a bit of miscommunication would go a long way.

Now students in the classroom have a hotline to home. In the case of the ninth kid I hated, she used this hotline as regular blackmail when she was having one of her hissy fits. A power play would unfold where she would act as though she’d get in her parents’ ears before the teacher would be able to give their version of events.

Now, while this would be the perfect situation to have known what I now know, about students bluffing who they were actually messaging, one incident stood out that made clear this girl really was messaging home when she said she was.

One lazy Thursday afternoon during English, ‘madam’ was kicking off as usual. It was still twenty minutes until lunch break, which probably explained part of the mood she was in. But then with one inconspicuous vibration of her pocket device, things really heated up. She pulled out the phone. She was asked politely to put it away. But she continued to read it.

“Sir, sir! My dad’s outside.”

“I can’t see him.”

“He’s in his car.”

“I’m sure if he needs to see you, he’ll do the old fashioned thing and let Ms Smith in the office know that he needs to see you.”

This placated her momentarily, until a few more messages were exchanged.

“He has my lunch sir.”

“It’s lunch time in twenty minutes, so you can have it then.”

“But its takeaway, and it’ll be cold by then.”

This was the point I looked out the window to see first hand the cause of this child’s social ineptitude.

Parked in the loading bay outside the school reception was a beaten up old car from the 80s with the driver’s door open and a man standing beside the car with holding two plastic carrier bags of steaming chicken and chips.

“Sir!” Her voice was becoming shrill. “If I don’t go now, my brother will take all the food and won’t give me anything.”

“I’m sure he’ll keep yours safe for you,” I responded, not entirely sure that her sixteen year old oaf of a sibling would be so generous.

Sure enough, I could now see her brother heading out to the car park, having no doubt given his own teacher some cock and bull story about going to the toilet. Unfortunately for the girl her honesty, and the classroom’s proximity to the car park, had not lent her the opportunity to bulldust me.

“I can see him getting both bags now,” she squealed.

“I can see him getting both the bags, now,” I muttered.

Turning back to the class, I demanded another two paragraphs from each student about the character development of Griff Price in the novel Two Weeks With The Queen; not before the remaining moments of Year Eight English were interrupted by screams of “There’ll be no chips left,” and “He’s going to eat all my chicken”.

When I finally dismissed the class, we entered the playground to find the older brother stuffing his face with the contents of both bags as the young girl had predicted. I approached him and requested he give the appropriate share of the food to his sister.

But in this confused new world of mobile telephonic machines, parental fast food delivery services and misogynistic older brothers; I couldn’t help but feel somewhat complicit in the dietary and emotional assault that had played out on this vulnerable young girl.

Perhaps if history repeated I’d confront the father directly, but if we met again in a major fast food burger chain I doubt I’d join them in a Japanese style ‘potato party’.

Kid #8 – Walk of Shame

The eighth kid I hated was a boy who hated the world. He had good reason. His parents were divorced; he had been left with his father and step-mother, who was nicer to him than his biological mother; he was quite unbearable to look at and had a ratty acne-ridden sort of appearance; and his grubby white shirt, with the usual blue school crest on it, would often be bright pink because some nitwit at home had run it through the washing machine with bleach – It was a real Cinderella story.

It was easy to be sympathetic to his situation, because he was clearly so useless. His father and step-mother would come in asking for advice on what to do with him because he was so lacking in intellect and causing them grief at home also. So it’s probably fair to say I didn’t hate him.

But the one thing he often did that got under my skin was making personal snide remarks (often in cahoots with kid #2) about myself or other staff members.

Now of course this is not beyond the realm of what children do. We have all been inclined in our youth to hone in on the physical, personal and professional lives of our teachers.

There was a teacher at my primary school whose longer surname had been abbreviated to “Mr Hazy” (despite him being a teacher with perfect clarity of thought). It was such a concreted part of our vernacular that students would go home referring to him by this less than complimentary name, thus causing our parents to adopt the same name for him. On a Year Five overnight farm stay, my father, who was joining us on the trip, entered the classroom first thing that morning and announced, “Is Mr Hazy here yet? Has anyone seen Mr Hazy?”.

Luckily most 10 year olds are reasonably self-absorbed so I don’t know that anyone noticed.

Another teacher in high school was doing relief teaching for our Japanese teacher who was on prolonged absence. He suffered from being a newly graduated teacher who could easily have passed himself off for a Year 10 student. (When I first graduated at the age of 23, the same fate awaited me, with an older staff member suggesting I grow a beard to help the ageing process). Unlike our usual Japanese teacher, it was unclear whether he had even been to Japan, and the lessons were usually somewhat of a shambles. But despite his limited foreign language skills and youthful appearance, it was his perambulation that drew the eye of our pubescent jeering.

The man would walk with such urgency that the top part of his body always seemed to proceed his feet and legs, making it look as though he could topple over at any moment. If he’d been anywhere near the BBC studio lot during the early 1970’s they’d have fast-tracked him to the Ministry of Silly Walks. Such was the man’s gait that even when he was stationery he’d appear somewhat prostrated.

And of course there were plenty of others…

The teacher we thought looked like an ape; the one someone hit with a basketball, making her nose bleed; the one who walked into a lamppost; the one who looked like a bikie; and the one who we spied smoking cigarettes on school camp, which we thought was as criminal as if he’d shot an opiate into his veins in front of a school assembly.

So it is only fair that those of us with lofty dreams, of altruistically educating the masses, have our own physicality and nuances subjected to the scrutinising ire of the teenage market.

My moment of scrutiny finally came under the watchful eye of the eighth hated child and his stooges as I walked across the semi-deserted playground, as once my own Japanese teacher had. When I began to cross the quadrangle towards the science block, a strange thing happened to my usually standard walking pattern. I felt my legs locking around the knees, my spine tightened and my anal sphincter began to spasm.

Then the abuse came, “He walks like he’s constipated.”

That is all I remember. But it is imprinted on my brain because of how vile his voice was when he said it. Also the smugness with which he imparted it to his friends. But most of all the accuracy.

I wasn’t constipated, nor was I suffering from diarrhoea. But due to the eternal pressure of being a graduate teacher and the relentless buffoonery of the human beings I had been directed to teach, I was definitely developing a psychosomatic case of irritable bowel syndrome.

Luckily I arrived at the science building and hid around the corner before letting one rip.

So although this child’s nastiness of this child was probably projections of his own insecurity; If we met again in a seedy night club (where for arguments sake I might be a toilet attendant), I doubt I’d pass him a hand towel.

Kid #7 – Psychopathic Tendencies

The seventh kid I hated stormed off at the end of the day and told me to “go fuck myself”. When we called her mother to raise our concern about the language, the mother responded by saying “You’re shitting me!”

I didn’t always hate this child. She was one of the ones on the brink of puberty who entered her first year of secondary as a somewhat academically challenged girl, sitting quietly and allowing the desert winds to swirl pleasantly through the vacant cavity beneath her cranium. She had a couple of friends, but went mostly unnoticed by the other students.

Under the surface her hormones were bubbling away ready to kick into overdrive. When it finally happened she became the most nasty, most disliked, most distrusted member of her cohort. She wasn’t a bully. She was just extremely frustrated.

It didn’t help that Kid #6 would continually remind her of her obesity problem. Nor did it help that other students would regularly take her special chocolate scented stationery. Nor did it help that the other little maggots in the room would use that stationery to write notes about her obesity problem and how this had led to the purchase (and near consumption) of the chocolate scented stationery with which they were writing.

She would get her own back by pushing and shoving the other students; calling them names; and avoiding school all together with heaven knows how many sick days.

It was one of these “sick day” that led to a single event which would change my whole perspective on the psychopathic tendencies of children.

The sick day fell on the same day there was a class essay. So when the young lass and a couple of her compatriots returned to the classroom the following day, they were asked to complete the essay. In an attempt to give them a fair go at completing it I placed the three of them in the adjoining classroom so it would be quieter and less distracting for them. There was a door joining the two classrooms and I hovered between the two classrooms making sure that both sets of students were on task; and for the most part trusting that the three who were completing the essay would get on with things.

The class finished, the students handed me their essays and everyone went home for the day as it was the last period.

The following morning the teacher who usually taught in the adjoining room was raging in the English office that all of her lollies had been taken from the top drawer of her desk. Further to that she had a few blades in her bottom drawer that had fallen out of pencil sharpeners. And these had been used to slash the interactive whiteboard. At first I didn’t realise what had happened. But then it dawned on me that it was this child (the one I hated) and I hadn’t realised because obviously the drawers were shut each time I returned to the room. But more importantly the board was always behind me as I entered the classroom, and when I exited the room I was too preoccupied making sure the students in the next room were on task to notice. Additionally the interactive whiteboard had never been used because no one in the school knew how to use it anyway. In hindsight I think there was probably more concern over the lollies and the girl’s ever-expanding waistline.

What surprised me the most was one of the deputy’s reaction that it was somehow my fault. That I shouldn’t have trusted the child to work independently on their work. I assumed that at the worst she might have eaten some crayons. But mostly I assumed that she’d be too busy writing the essay to have performed such an attention seeking stunt. More the fool me. I now don’t trust most students as far as I can throw them. And in her case I’d be lucky to lift her off the ground in the first place.

So although it was probably a cry for help that went somewhat un-addressed by the school counselling services, if we met again I doubt I’d offer her a piece of cake.

Kid #6 – The best use for contraband paper planes

The sixth kid I hated had migrated from Wales to the Australian desert. He had a penchant for being annoying; making paper aeroplanes; and being a smart aleck who had no friends.

When you first travel to a remote desert town in Australia, there is a realisation that however much expense and time you spent to get there, the same amount is also required to leave the place. The heat, the flies and the loneliness smack you across the face often leading the toughest of men and women to enter the foetal position and start bawling. At first you want to leave, but you know you must stay if only because you would have wasted all that effort getting there in the first place. Those who stay for a lifetime are remarkable people. The rest of us come and go for a few years at a time then return to the big cities.

Coming from one of the Australian capital cities to a desert town is hard enough. So arriving in the desert from another country on the opposite side of the world must be near fatal.

The same must be true for children. Except in addition to everything else, none of this was their decision. The young child residing in my Year Eight English class told me he’d been torn away from his friends back home, without consultation and that this was making him very upset. This may have been true, but was no excuse for his inane attention seeking, swearing and general rough housing with the other boys and girls. He was also putting the sop story on pretty thick for someone who acted like the Big Cheese.

He looked like trouble when you saw him. His eyes smiled with malicious thoughts; you could see his nostrils flaring slightly ready to snarl; and the side of his top lip twitched upward to display his nonchalance towards institutionalised education. He was a weedy kid with a weedy attitude to match. His acts of rebellion were an endless source of amusement for the other children in class, however no one wanted to be his friend, because he was unpredictable and would usually drag everyone down around him if he got caught out over a misdemeanour.

There was no one incident with this child that stands out as the cause of my hatred for him. He was mostly just an ongoing annoyance to myself and most of the other staff. So one particular day I finally snapped. He and his enemies were flying paper planes around the room. It was amateur hour in terms of the handicraft and the scene looked like something out a 1980’s high school sitcom. I added the final paper aeroplane to the pile on my desk and without explanation told the class to line up at the door. We then proceeded to the courtyard, where due to the frosted window panes, no other staff member or student would be able to see what was about to unfold.

I lined the students along one wall, with my Year 8 fooligan on the other. I then distributed one paper aeroplane to each child (29 planes in total. I am very patient when I want to be. And had waited to collect the exact amount). The origami firing squad were poised to attack when one student pointed out, “What happens if one goes in his eye?”. It was a valid point so I took an empty box, from by the photocopier, and placed it on the boy’s head.

“Fire”.

There’s nothing more satisfying than the war-cry of children gaining sweet revenge in a punishment that fits the crime. The paper aircrafts glided through the air hitting every part of the victim’s body and creating no damage at all. They didn’t even damage his ego – although I had suspected this would be the case all along. He was a resilient child in that regard. I wouldn’t have unleashed an attack if I didn’t think he could take the hit.

The class reconvened and all A4 papers remained in their original flat form from thence forth.

However word of the events on the battlefield leaked out to the Year 9 and 10 English classes, who were soon requesting their own airborne conflict. I denied any knowledge of the previous raid, but learnt a very valuable lesson that day. When a child’s behaviour escalates, you are welcome to escalate the situation further yourself by turning the class against him, but inevitably the scoundrel wins because they have access to a larger artillery.

I ultimately came to a disciplinary deadlock with this child where both of us could see the funnier side of things, but if we ever met again I doubt I would fold paper cranes with him.

Kid #5 – The empty tissue box

The fifth kid I hated wanted to blow her nose when there were no tissues left in the classroom. The staff were under strict instruction to not allow any student to leave the classroom.

However teenagers aren’t particularly au fait with being told “no”. So when it came time for me to decline her request, for leave from the classroom to expel her mucus, things really kicked off.

It was the depth of winter and, even though this school was in the middle of the Australian desert, the weather really declined in the winter months. The winters there are as dreary as London just for shorter periods. The rain is relentless; the nights are colder than the usual coldness of the desert; and the red dust turns to red mud. Additionally the classrooms aren’t particularly built for the cold. The air conditioning is great in the summer, but during the winter you’re often driven to don a jacket to protect against the brunt of the impending cold. One teacher in the school was known for harnessing the elements to her advantage and freezing her students out. If misbehaviour became a problem, she’d knock all of the heaters to zero, pull on her coat and tell the students to get on with things if they wanted the heating back on. If they still acted out, they’d be outside the class cowering under the narrow awnings to avoid the rain.

The student I hated, did not quite drive me to playing the elements against her, but when she requested the tissue for her ongoing head cold I checked the bottom drawer of the desk to find no tissues and little sympathy for someone who should probably have spent the day at home. She then proceeded to kick up a stink that it was a violation of her human rights – young Homo sapiens are prone to melodrama. I stood my ground and did not budge. The girl was the sort of student who had caused me grief in the past due to her deluded expectations that she could run her relationship with staff on some sort of credit system. If she asked enough clever questions in class, did a mediocre job of classwork and shot you a pseudo-smile every once in a while, it was as though she’d earned the right to entertain us with a semi frequent temper tantrum. Politeness and hard work is not currency. You can’t cash it in for sociopathic behaviour at the end of each month.

The real kicker came in the afternoon when I made a pre-emptive phone call home to the girl’s mother so I could set the record straight on the tissue refusal – the student had a habit of constructing a web of lies to side her mother against the school (including the time she convinced her mother she had nothing to do with circulating a note about her red-haired friend’s “ginger minge”).

Thinking in my naivety that the mother would take my side, if I got in first with my version of events, I was irritated to find that in the time it had taken me to move from the classroom to the telephone in the office, the daughter had already divulged her version of the injustices enforced against her wishes to acquire a snot-relieving portion of paper. Furthermore when I insisted that it was school policy students could not leave the classroom, even for a tissue, the mother burst into tears claiming (as her daughter had previously) that it was a violation of human rights and threatened to report me to the principal. I would have offered her a tissue but this was of course a phone call, and would have contravened the rules leading to this original confrontation.

Was it my own fear of getting in trouble from management that had led me to hold my students hostage without access to personal care products? Should students without access to paper handkerchiefs simply be expected to wipe their nose on their sleeves? Would it have been impolite to have offered the student the three-day-old used tissue I had in my own pocket?

I’m sure this singular event did not cause long term damage for this student and she has probably turned out to be quite the respectable (albeit melodramatic) individual fighting for the rights of other tissue-seeking individuals; but if we were to meet in a dust storm, I doubt I’d say “bless you”.