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”.

Kid #4 – Calming your farm

The fourth kid I hated had two weeks left when I met him. Two weeks left of school. Not two weeks left to live.

He supposedly had a mechanic’s apprenticeship in the works. Until then, the law of the land stated this 16 year-old needed to be in school until some form of employment that offered training was available. The difficulty for him was that he couldn’t organise his way out of a cardboard box, so it was taking a while to arrange his exit to the garage.

He was cocky and arrogant. He didn’t cut his hair. His pants hung around his knees. He probably smelled. He was hiding his incompetence behind his bravado.

The other children in the class saw him as a hero and a nuisance and would often join in the general defiance and disruption. But on the days he was absent they would say things to me like, “Aren’t you glad he’s not here?” or “Don’t you wish he would just leave?”. This of course gave little solace as the fear brewed waiting for the delinquent’s return the following day.

He enjoyed a bit of nose-to-nose intimidation with staff members. It was always hard to decide whether to respond with an aggressive Eskimo kiss (sic Inuit kiss); or a UFC head butt. Choosing neither I would quietly ask him to return to his seat. He did not like the passive approach and would reply with the usual, “Make me,” or turn to the class and say, “Look at this guy. He can’t even control the class”. The shouting approach was equally futile as he would claim, “You can’t speak to me like that,” or “Calm your farm” (a phrase that to this day curdles my blood – due to its illogical nature. I understand the calm bit, but what was the farm referring to? Was the class the farm? If so that didn’t make sense, because it was already calm except for this certain individual; Was my mood the farm? That didn’t make sense either because how could one emotion of anger be a metaphor for a collection of dairy and wool producing livestock; or was the farm referring to an actual farm? A farm I had subconsciously purchased the deeds for and now blocked from my mind and financial records).

The metaphorical farm was finally calmed when this child managed to get his apprenticeship approved. Or perhaps he became a truant. I didn’t care to know.

Often in these circumstances teaching staff may feel a sense of having failed the child in that final transition stage from child to man child.

I felt relief.

I don’t doubt life was hard for this vestigial over-indulged teenage foetus, but if we met again I doubt I’d pay for him to service my car.

Kid #3

The third kid I hated was a curly-haired greasy-faced racist who once exited halfway through an English class to walk forty minutes through the 40 degree Australian heat to his family home that was locked because everyone was out.

I disliked this 15 year-old mostly because of his stupidity and Palaeolithic form of communication with his fellow human.

But most of all it was the generic racism he applied towards the indigenous population of his country. If you want to see an example of how racism is different to educated opinion, grab yourself a pubescent fool from your nearest redneck backwater.

It was upon screening the film Jindabyne to a Year 10 English class that the racism, of him and his peers, came to the fore. Jindabyne is about the fallout from a community dealing with the murder of an Aboriginal girl and the discovery of her body.

The main thing the student buffoon and his comrades took from the film was that “Aborigines are dole bludging alcoholics who hang out in parks” – albeit none of the characters in the film bludged the dole nor drank any beverages in public reserves. So clearly these visions of the indigenous race had come from the teens’ bigoted parents.

I combatted this racism by pointing out that a number of their peers were Aboriginal or of foreign background; thus at the least they were being short sighted about their own associates. This fell on deaf ears so I brought in the school’s Aboriginal Education Officer to speak with them. This was a man they respected and loved. So of course their racism cooled off when they were put in this situation. They were no longer so prepared to blow off with their small minded views. I enjoyed watching them squirm as hopefully they realised their racist remarks were ill found.

Despite this calming of the situation and hopefully a refocused approach to the discussions surrounding race in the English lessons, I was still loath to spend time in the same space as this child. Nothing gets my blood boiling more than blind racism from a youth or adult alike. The boy and his mates had seen it got my blood boiling and had deliberately gone out of their way to drop racist remarks, which led me to be so frustrated with them.

Thankfully with the help of the Aboriginal Education Officer the situation between myself and this blockheaded teenager became diffused, but if we met again I doubt I’d share my Valentine’s chocolates with him.

Kid #2

The second kid I hated was an overweight teenage girl with body image issues and a personality complex. She was also a bully; A bully to students and staff a like.

One morning lining up for class she announced to another classmate the following, “Did you watch Desperate Housewives last night?”.

She then shot a sideways glance at me. What may appear to be an innocuous statement to most, seemed to be a loaded statement to a committed Desperate Housewives fan like myself.

This was then followed up by another comment, “Did your dad cut your hair?”.

The second statement, not directed at anyone particular, was clearly a reference to my hair (which had in fact been cut by my father), and more to the point was a reference to a Facebook fan page, one of my friends had set up as an ironic joke. Unfortunately teenagers don’t do irony particularly well.

Thus was the end of my Facebook fanpage – which I immediately request be shut down – and the beginning of a long riding standoff between myself and this monstrosity of a child. Every single comment she made was vile. Every request to do work was meant with contempt and vitriol. The girl would wallow in misery and every attempt at positivity by her friends was beaten down with a foul look or a snide remark about their family or face.

Unfortunately there was no redeeming feature about this child. The school management were not interested in bringing her into line. She never completed any classwork. She never smiled without malicious contempt. She really was quite hateful.

The biggest difficulty was that her twin brother was wheelchair bound and by all accounts terminally ill. The one time he turned up to school he appeared to be as hateful as her. How many exceptions should be made for children in this position?

Some I’m sure. But everyone at the time seemed to sidestep the issue. If I had my time again I’d address the elephant in the room head on and request the necessary counseling and support be put in place for her and her truanting brother.

When the people we love are gone, we are still here. She was being a short sighted teenager and her grief probably cost her an education.

But if we met again I doubt I would share a cheeseburger with her.

Kid #1

The first kid I hated told me to “fuck off”. This is not behaviour that would be tolerated from an adult; or at the very least would be met with a similarly anger-charged, “Why don’t you fuck off?”.

However, I was a student teacher, he was a student student, and both of us were out of our depth in the West Australian Pilbara without a dime to our name (albeit the state government had paid me a lump sum to head to the dust bowl; I’d blown the whole lot on petrol – some for transport, the rest for recreational use). I’m normally non-confrontational, so if someone else had told me to “fuck off” I’d probably have done just that. But this child needed to be in the classroom doing his work because the government said so.

After much negotiation, time out, shouting and general cajoling, he re-entered the room. Sitting back in his seat, pencil in hand, eyes rolling to the back of his head, this 13-year-old ball of anguish continued to do no work for the duration of my six week stint in town.

Had I failed as a teacher? Had I failed as a human being? Or had the school simply omitted that the child had recently been taken off his ADHD medication and was spiralling into a severe pattern of withdrawal?

I tend to think that my inexperience at the time led me to have less empathy for the child. It is very hard in that moment, when someone tells you to “fuck off”, to remember that this is not a personal attack but a by-product of an unstable home environment or emotional turmoil or testosterone or flagging Ritalin levels. We are human beings first and professionals or parents second. Sometimes our own human emotions kick in and it was my inner Zen that prevented me from pushing that child over the first floor rusted cast iron railing.

I of course dealt with it in the professional way and acted amicably to calm the child, but if we met again I doubt I would buy him a drink.