Kid #32 – Guitar Virtuoso

The thirty-second kid I hated thought he could play the guitar.

Thought he was a real-life juvenile Jimi Hendrix, a snotty-nosed Slava Grigoryan, a tiny Tommy Emmanuel.

‘Thought’ was the operative word. ‘Play’ was a lofty dream of what he wanted to do with the guitar. ‘Owned’ was a more apt description of his relationship with the guitar.

The thirty-third kid owned a guitar.

He owned it in the sense that a person experiencing a midlife crisis owns a guitar, because they listened to too many Santana songs so thought they’d give it a good old-fashioned go themselves. They watch a few YouTube videos, pay half their live-savings towards private lessons and, when they get to the advanced stages of Deep Purple’s insidious Smoke on the Water guitar riff (the Chopsticks of the guitar), give up to instead frame the instrument for hanging in the pool room, while pursuing a macramé course.

The difficulty with this child was the YouTube videos he had watched were of Piano Cat, he had only paid £2 to be taught in a group of twenty children and, most problematically, he hadn’t given up. He just kept coming back. Every time we had guitar club, there he would be flapping his sticky flapjack-crumb-covered fingers on the fret board, massacring the chords to Michael Row the Boat Ashore.

Now, to put the ‘guitar club’ into perspective, the British education system has in the past many years hatched a half-cocked hairbrained scheme to have extra-curricular clubs outside of school hours. Clubs are usually hosted by staff working overtime, who are being compensated with time in lieu, a fistful of coins or a pat on the back. Meanwhile, the school can smugly show off to parents, top up the petty cash tin and earn a little tick in a box from the inspectors.

The reality for parents is their child will be baby sat for a cheaper rate than the normal after-school childcare services or the cost of a nanny.

In the case of this child, it was probably just to keep him out of the house for an extra hour. He was extremely hyperactive and the additional time away from home was most likely sweet relief for his folks. His parents were always very adamant that he held a deep passion for guitar, but then he also attended Lego club, cooking club, football club and origami club. Maybe he was an all-rounder.

“He just loves guitar club,” his mother would gush.

“He waits all week for guitar club.”

“He’s always practising at home.”

“He wants to be able to play like his uncle.”

Not to cast aspersions, but the way this student treated his guitar left one to think his uncle was some type of Antonia Banderas character toting a guitar-case loaded with weaponry. The child was prone to tantrums and aggressions. In contrast to my own upbringing where I was told to wash my hands before handling musical instruments, this child would have used the six-stringed song-maker as a dinner plate, given the opportunity.

We’d barely get through the first chord of Twinkle Twinkle and he’d be setting upon one of the children a few years younger. One lesson, we barely got to the end of the SpongeBob SquarePants Theme song, because of the disruption he caused. He’d be giving funny looks to the kids, speaking over the top of others and running in and out of the room. He was a complete nuisance and when you’ve got a room full of novice guitarists under the age of ten, the last thing you need is any distraction. Then when he’d finally settle, we’d still be waylaid by a plectrum falling into another child’s guitar or a string falling out of tune on the bright pink guitar one girl had purchased from Poundland – this is what she claimed, despite my scepticism that you’d even manufacture one tuning peg for less than five pounds. A group setting was not the place for guitar lessons, and it was not the place for this menace.

The school itself was not doing itself any favours. The headteacher at the time appeared confused as to the concept of reward and consequence. On one occasion after throwing a temper tantrum in class, we wandered past the headteacher’s office to see this belligerent pest eating ice-cream. On another occasion, after throwing a shoe at a student, we walked past to find said child being asked his opinion on the proposed plans for a proposed new half-million-dollar playground. It was at that point I figured we could forgo the weekly £2 club fee by getting rid of him altogether – the school was clearly saving money on consultancy fees so wouldn’t miss a couple of pounds.

I politely suggested to the mother that guitar wasn’t for this child. She seemed surprised. She mentioned something about how he was practicing a lot with uncle. I wondered quietly to myself whether she’d confused the guitar with the guns, because they both started with the letter ‘G’. Either way it seemed he was going nowhere. So instead he remained. My sanity did not. Neither did several of the other children who became fed up and left.

It seemed a case of ‘he who plays discordantly the loudest shall be heard’. And upon reflection, the purpose of much rock ‘n’ roll music is to manically release stress by banging membranophones, shouting into a microphone and slapping your hand across some nylon strings. It was probably good relief for this child to have an outlet.

I found my relief on the bus home listening to James Taylor.

Kid #24 – Hyperactivity

The twenty-fourth kid I hated had ADHD.

Having been brought up in a generation where ADHD was sniffed at as a cure-all for misbehaviour, I still have apprehensive cynicism when I first meet such children. Yet this child would be the child to blow numerous misconceptions I had about the condition out of the water.

To begin, he certainly had attention deficits. You would be working with him individually on a task, where he’d be acting engaged and enthused. But turn your head for a moment to give attention elsewhere, and he’d have caused mischief to another unsuspecting member of the room.

He was also hyperactive. He was always dancing (except for one occasion when he was supposed to be dancing, and then refused). The rest of the class were lined in regiment ready to commence the day and he’d be James Brown shoe shuffling, krumping or moonwalking his way up and down the line.

When he had finally been commanded to a stationary position his knee would be twitching in anticipation of his next jazz split.

But worst of all was when his ADHD manifested itself as anger. He could be triggered into full blown tantrums or attacks with very little provocation. This of course incited his peers to find various ways of chiding him into unbridled hysteria. As in adult life, psychological warfare is less frowned upon than hand-to-hand combat. So the kiddely-winks took the opportunity to create situations of paranoia which would eventual lead the child to an outburst of violence.

The fact he’d hit someone in the head was easily proven, but the jeering, teasing and subversive undermining of his character was always hard to pin point. So, inevitably he was the one who’d find himself standing in isolation outside the staff room during lunchtimes.

The general lack of acceptance led him, on a number of occasions, to create rather contrived stories. He was forever banging on about his mother’s promise to take him on a trip to Jamaica. He also claimed one of his Jamaican cousins had arranged a romantic liaison for him with a nice young girl via Skype.

On one occasion he brought to class a series of handwritten notes from the ‘girlfriend’, arising much suspicion considering it was supposed to be an online relationship. Also, most of the notes were only a couple of sentences, meaning it would have been a lengthy exchange of messages if they had indeed been posted back and forward between the UK and the Caribbean using the British postal system.

There was also a level of censorship required with this child. Most of his peers were still under the impression that babies came from cabbage patches, storks or Amazon’s home delivery service. But the ADHD kid spent a lot of time hanging around older cousins and had clearly been informed about the birds and bees, and a few species in-between.

It took me a while to pick the glint in his eye when he was heading down the path of one of his more inappropriate tales – tales that would be rated PG in comparison to his Skype dalliance. One such tale involved him wandering down a beach and spotting a group of people lain near the water. He told the story with such flare and embellishment, including details of seagulls, sandcastles and pelicans, I was caught unawares when he concluded with his punchline: “And then I saw that one of the girls wasn’t wearing a top and I could see her boobies!”

The conclusion was met with raucous laughter from the class, again fuelling his delicate ego and curing his low self-esteem.

The adults around him must have been reasonably doubtful and untrusting of him; myself included – not undue to stories such as the one previously mentioned. He always needed to prove himself in cold hard fact. Perhaps it was a self-aware case of ‘the boy who cried wolf’.

One particular weekend, after a long absence by his father, the young lad spent a day with his father in Leicester Square visiting M & M World and the cinema. He returned to school the following Monday with his ticket stubs from Wreck-It Ralph (an apt choice of film, due to his own tendencies towards destruction). It was one of the saddest things I’ve seen. Normally telling people you’ve seen a movie and verifying a few plot points suffices in convincing them you have indeed viewed the film. Yet here was a child so desperate to prove the existence of a promise his father had delivered on, that he brought in a couple of torn ticket stubs.

Or perhaps he had stolen them from a bin outside Odeon.

He was an insecure sweet heart at the best of times and an infuriatingly stubborn child at others. It was his stubborn misbehaviour that led to him being banned from performing in the Easter play, being banned from making homemade bread with the class, and causing the football coach to have a meltdown and resign.

His inability to process thoughts, his relentless fidgeting and social ineptness are now my benchmark for ADHD. He convinced me there is a need to deal with such children in a different manner to those without the condition.

I even choked up a little bit on his last day, at the thought of him being left out in the ruthless world of high school where he’d probably be thrown to the dogs for his abrasiveness. A world where ADHD is a dirty word and you’re expected to do what you’re told when you’re told.

But if I ever met him again somewhere in the Caribbean, I doubt I’d shout him a Pina Colada.

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.