Kid #26 – The Bright Lights of Holby City

The twenty sixth kid I hated appeared as a baby in the television series Holby City.

This wasn’t why I hated her, but it would have been reason enough. She was eleven years old when I knew her, and the class had been asked to complete an autobiography on themselves. She chose to focus on the time when she was one week old in hospital and the casting crew from Holby City had come around the wards looking for a baby suitable for one of their two week story arcs.

Apparently as babies go, she was the perfect infant for the job; or perhaps the only one who had parents who would agree to have their child appear on one of the most banal soap operas of all time. It was most probably this early experience of fame, catering trucks and pampering, that led to her awful pre-teen personality. She could easily be described as a ‘right madam’.

At first it was unnoticeable. She was very industrious. She would complete her work, shyly answer questions in class and present artistically presented homework. However, meanwhile she was unleashing a relentless tirade against one of the weaker members of the class. It was a subversive attack, completely unseen by the adult staff. It was a series of mind games aimed at deflecting from her own insecurities. It was a batch of actions torn from the pages of The Plastics’ Burn Book in Mean Girls.

Unbeknownst to myself she could be found whispering insults to one particular girl. In the playground she was gathering together groups of girls and gossiping nonsense, when her victim was nearby. I later quizzed the girls on what had been said. It had merely been a series of indistinguishable mutterings aimed at creating paranoia in her victim. Finally it was escalating to the point where she was encouraging all female members of the year group to steer clear of the other girl, rendering her victim completely friendless.

All this was happening in such a calculated manner, it went by without myself batting an eyelid.

Luckily for everyone the classroom teaching assistant was wiser than myself and had her ear to the ground. She soon brought to my attention the reality of the situation. The teaching assistant held a few round table conferences with the girls and resolved most of the issues.

When I confronted the girl about her manipulative actions and the seriousness of bullying, she admitted to everything. But that was only because the teaching assistant had already done all of the detective work, so the girl was cornered.

I said time was too precious to be holding round table discussions if this sort of thing happened again, and I asked whether there was anything troubling her that may have caused such nasty behaviour.

It was at this point she channelled her inner Regina George and played me for a complete fiddle. She told me how upset she was that her grandmother was dying and she may not see her again because she lived overseas. I asked what was wrong with her grandmother and the girl responded that her grandmother had been sick for eleven years.

At this point I smelt something fishy. I mean, if the grandmother had lasted eleven years already, she was as likely to live as she was to die. But I gave the girl the benefit of the doubt and sent her back to work.

A few weeks later the students were sitting their practice tests for the end of year exams. Due to limited resources the tests were downloaded from past papers stored on the Internet. So the sharp students were already onto these and downloading them from the web to cheat the system.

Unfortunately the girl was not smart enough. She had memorised the answers word-for-word from the marking scheme. One particular answer stood out as being so precise, there was no way she could have come to that conclusion without having seen the answer booklet. When confronted about it, she again crumbled knowing full well that the evidence stacked up against her. She had been caught red-handed. She was now a bully and a cheat.

A few months passed and everything went quiet again. Too quiet when there’s a rat in the ranks. I was keeping close watch on her and making sure to isolate her from situations where she’d be able to cheat or psychologically terrorise her companions. But then she struck again. She was caught, by a lunchtime supervisor, telling her posy of girlfriends that her victim had been saying things about them behind their backs – certainly a classic move in the ‘mean bitch’ stakes.

And so it was that I was left with no choice but to mark her behaviour down as ‘satisfactory’ instead of ‘excellent’ on the report card.

This did not go down well with her mother who turned out to be a beastly woman, who was ten times the bully her daughter was, but did not have the fall-back of being a ‘child-star’ on Holby City to excuse her behaviour.

She stormed into my room on parent teacher evening, declaring her daughter had never been anything but excellent in previous reports. She demanded the school records be adjusted to show her daughter as an upstanding citizen.

I pointed out the daughter’s status was still satisfactory, where I could have marked ‘unsatisfactory’, but I couldn’t possibly in my right mind say her behaviour was ‘excellent’ when she’d caused a near nervous breakdown in another student.

The mother, being a queen bee parent of deflection, proceeded to blame the other child for all the misdemeanours, began questioning my professionalism in behaviour management and espoused her misinformed knowledge about the academic curriculum because as she put it, “I work in schools and I know how these things work”.

What school she worked in and what particularly she did at that school I do not know. But she spoke with the knowledge of someone who perhaps restocked the stationary cupboard once a fortnight and only had interaction with children when her own brat wasn’t been looked after by the au pair.

The meeting spilled over by twenty minutes as she refused to leave. Luckily other parents begin getting agitated when this happens, and she only got the hint to leave when there was soon a number of angry faces leering at the window because their own parent meetings were now delayed. This didn’t stop her pursuing the deputy, the following day, to have her daughter’s behaviour record adjusted to reflect what she deemed to be the appropriate grade.

The deputy was a level-headed person who politely explained to her what good manners were and ushered her back onto the street. That was the last we heard of her. Well at least until the next parents’ evening.

There were no further flair ups from this pouting pre-teen plebeian before the year was out. Well, certainly there were no incidents that I was aware of.

Perhaps there was something deeper causing her puerile behaviour, which if I’d given more time to her, I’d have been able to help her with. On the face of it, she was probably bullying because of her own insecurities about her own lack of intelligence.

Or maybe she was in fact just mean.

Or perhaps it was modelled behaviour from her mother.

Inversely, she could be somewhere now being victim to a meaner nastier bully. Perhaps I’d even have some sympathy for her.

But if we ever met again, I doubt I’d sit down to watch old VHS tapes of her Holby City appearance.

Kid #25 – The Know-It-All

The twenty-fifth kid I hated was a know-it-all who heaved a big sigh, whenever someone didn’t know the answer to something.

For example a question, regarding seemingly simple mathematical equations, would be answered incorrectly by a student. Child number twenty-five would then respond with a deep sigh followed by a phrase such as: “It’s soooo obvious”; or “Everyone knows the answer is three”; or “That’s easy!”.

To which I would usually reply: “If it’s so obvious, why don’t I send you to university”; or “Clearly not everyone knew the answer otherwise idiot Joe over here would have responded correctly”; or “Go jump in a creek, you purulent child”.

Sure these were petulant reactions to a petulant child, but he was infuriating.

He would lean back on his chair causing his eyes to roll backwards in his head. We gave him the benefit of the doubt about the eye-rolling – he claimed it was a nervous tick. More likely it was induced by a case of misplaced arrogance from his overfed lower middle-class ego that had been fuelled by the sycophants who fuelled him further with Haribos so he’d not beat them up.

If it weren’t for his intimidating physique, booming sigh and pseudo-psychosomatic eye rolling, he’d have been just another mediocre nerd who had spent a few extra hours reading some pages of an Encyclopaedia to one-up his mates.

We’ve all had to withstand such buffoonery either as children, parents or teachers. The child who memorised some large, yet ultimately useless, calculation to impress; or the fool who attended a summer school learning Latin and then enjoyed espousing the importance of prefixes derived from ancient languages; or the young hoodlum who spent every other evening swim training, so thinks they’re the next Leisel Jones, because their mother said so.

Child number twenty-five was that kind of kid. The dark reality was his show-boating was an attempt to distract from the clear eating disorder he had. He was at least three times larger than the second most obese student in the class. His mother was not obese.

She would come to parent meetings lamenting how the child never listened to her, when her husband was working away. She complained her son seemed agitated and unfocussed. In lieu of a medical degree, it was still reasonably clear that most of these things could be traced back to his high daily intake of sugar (and this was before faux dieticians Sarah Wilson and Davina McCall were publishing sugar-free books).

This is not to solely blame the child’s poor attitude on his diet. That would be unfair. He was most likely a horrible person by nature. But his mother’s constant feeding did not help. She was a sympathetic feeder, giving him what he wanted, when he wanted it. Hell, if I lived with him on a permanent basis I’d probably done the same – not just giving him slices of cake, but force feeding him the entire triple-layered chocolate sponge, Boris Bogtrotter style.

There was one particular meeting where the mother really felt at the end of her tether. I was also at mine. But as I said to the class teaching assistant, “How do you tell a mother her child is fat, and that it’s her fault?”

The answer to that question is probably to be more direct. Instead, in my ever diplomatic style, I beat around the bush. I raised with her our concern that her son had been turning up to school with energy drinks in his bag. Politely I suggested the guarana and caffeine could be a root cause for his lack of focus and any hyperactivity. She said she hadn’t given the drinks to him. He must have stolen them.

Either way, that didn’t explain the Nutella sandwiches, bags of sweets or chocolate coated sultanas he’d often bring to school. The idea he’d stolen them is as bizarrely ignorant as saying a child watched porn without their parents knowing, or cranked up thousand dollar bills on in-app purchases, or got drunk off your vintage wine cellar while you were out picking daisies. Parents should throw the television out the window, disconnect the Wi-Fi and pour the alcohol down the drain respectively. Remove temptation.

Likewise if your offspring have a sweet tooth, then incinerate all sugar-based products within a one hundred metre radius of your home. Leave them to gnaw on what they hope to be a sugar-cane chair, only to find it’s made from bamboo. They’ll be eating salad sandwiches soon enough.

If I had my time again, I’d probably be more direct with the parent, or have done some better health education in class to steer the child in the right direction. If only I’d had access to That Sugar Film, back then, things may have been different.

I’m sure the young man is growing up to be a more tolerant and intelligent person who will hopefully come to his own conclusions about his diet. Our destiny is in our diet.

But if I ever met him again, I doubt I’d suggest popping down to the local ice creamery for a catch up.

The twenty-fifth kid I hated was a know-it-all who heaved a big sigh, whenever someone didn’t know the answer to something.

For example a question, regarding seemingly simple mathematical equations, would be answered incorrectly by a student. Child number twenty-five would then respond with a deep sigh followed by a phrase such as: “It’s soooo obvious”; or “Everyone knows the answer is three”; or “That’s easy!”.

To which I would usually reply: “If it’s so obvious, why don’t I send you to university”; or “Clearly not everyone knew the answer otherwise idiot Joe over here would have responded correctly”; or “Go jump in a creek, you purulent child”.

Sure these were petulant reactions to a petulant child, but he was infuriating.

He would lean back on his chair causing his eyes to roll backwards in his head. We gave him the benefit of the doubt about the eye-rolling – he claimed it was a nervous tick. More likely it was induced by a case of misplaced arrogance from his overfed lower middle-class ego that had been fuelled by the sycophants who fuelled him further with Haribos so he’d not beat them up.

If it weren’t for his intimidating physique, booming sigh and pseudo-psychosomatic eye rolling, he’d have been just another mediocre nerd who had spent a few extra hours reading some pages of an Encyclopaedia to one-up his mates.

We’ve all had to withstand such buffoonery either as children, parents or teachers. The child who memorised some large, yet ultimately useless, calculation to impress; or the fool who attended a summer school learning Latin and then enjoyed espousing the importance of prefixes derived from ancient languages; or the young hoodlum who spent every other evening swim training, so thinks they’re the next Leisel Jones, because their mother said so.

Child number twenty-five was that kind of kid. The dark reality was his show-boating was an attempt to distract from the clear eating disorder he had. He was at least three times larger than the second most obese student in the class. His mother was not obese.

She would come to parent meetings lamenting how the child never listened to her, when her husband was working away. She complained her son seemed agitated and unfocussed. In lieu of a medical degree, it was still reasonably clear that most of these things could be traced back to his high daily intake of sugar (and this was before faux dieticians Sarah Wilson and Davina McCall were publishing sugar-free books).

This is not to solely blame the child’s poor attitude on his diet. That would be unfair. He was most likely a horrible person by nature. But his mother’s constant feeding did not help. She was a sympathetic feeder, giving him what he wanted, when he wanted it. Hell, if I lived with him on a permanent basis I’d probably done the same – not just giving him slices of cake, but force feeding him the entire triple-layered chocolate sponge, Boris Bogtrotter style.

There was one particular meeting where the mother really felt at the end of her tether. I was also at mine. But as I said to the class teaching assistant, “How do you tell a mother her child is fat, and that it’s her fault?”

The answer to that question is probably to be more direct. Instead, in my ever diplomatic style, I beat around the bush. I raised with her our concern that her son had been turning up to school with energy drinks in his bag. Politely I suggested the guarana and caffeine could be a root cause for his lack of focus and any hyperactivity. She said she hadn’t given the drinks to him. He must have stolen them.

Either way, that didn’t explain the Nutella sandwiches, bags of sweets or chocolate coated sultanas he’d often bring to school. The idea he’d stolen them is as bizarrely ignorant as saying a child watched porn without their parents knowing, or cranked up thousand dollar bills on in-app purchases, or got drunk off your vintage wine cellar while you were out picking daisies. Parents should throw the television out the window, disconnect the Wi-Fi and pour the alcohol down the drain respectively. Remove temptation.

Likewise if your offspring have a sweet tooth, then incinerate all sugar-based products within a one hundred metre radius of your home. Leave them to gnaw on what they hope to be a sugar-cane chair, only to find it’s made from bamboo. They’ll be eating salad sandwiches soon enough.

If I had my time again, I’d probably be more direct with the parent, or have done some better health education in class to steer the child in the right direction. If only I’d had access to That Sugar Film, back then, things may have been different.

I’m sure the young man is growing up to be a more tolerant and intelligent person who will hopefully come to his own conclusions about his diet. Our destiny is in our diet.

But if I ever met him again, I doubt I’d suggest popping down to the local ice creamery for a catch up.

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 #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’.

It Follows – Film Review

The wonderful thing about It Follows, is the realism for the non-supernatural elements of the film. It is free of the melodramatic over-acting present in many of its predecessors such as I know what you did last summer or Scream.

In fact the opening scenes involving Jay (Maika Monroe) appear to be reminiscent of most independent features about small American towns.

A group of youths, spending their summers together hanging out playing board games, watching movies and swimming in an above-ground pool. The general comradery and jest is present when Jay exits the pool and shakes her wet hair over her sister while her friend lets out a fart. This is all happening while they sit on the couch reading e-books, eating Cheetos and watching Killers from Space.

Then, as with all good horror films, the picture-perfect slice of American pie begins crumbling around the central characters as ‘It’ begins to follow.

I have no intention of spoiling what ‘It’ is; you must see ‘It’ for yourself.

What must briefly be discussed is a sequence that happens during the calm before the storm.

Jay is swimming in her above ground swimming pool. It’s suburban America at its finest. The entire atmosphere is reminiscent of my Australian childhood summers spent playing shark attack games with my cousins in their above ground swimming pool. The difference here is there’s no tomfoolery. Just one lone person floating on her back.

Then all of a sudden you realise she’s being watched. Is it by some evil pervert, a monstrous beast or a masked serial killer? No, it’s a couple of ten year old boys – neither looking like children of the corn, but more like Tom Sayer and Huckleberry Finn.

In this case, it seems Tom and Huck have just discovered girls. But more importantly, I ask, where are their parents?

It Follows 2

Have they not had the birds and bees talk so these two kids hiding in the bushes can realise they’re batting out of their league. This young lady is almost twice their age, and she has a date lined up for the evening. Both those kids should be down the park batting with an actual baseball bat, instead of whatever batting it is they’re trying to do at this moment.

Plus it’s rude to stare. No manners at all.

Poor Jay realises the boys are there and tells them as much. She laughs them off. But she still feels the need to get out of her own swimming pool and head inside, just because these vernal voyeurs couldn’t keep their eye balls to themselves.

Peeping Tom and Huck have proven that objectification of women can start at a young age.

Perhaps I am not unlike these two lads, in that I’ve been watching this film gazing at the female form as she is terrorised by ‘It’ who follows.

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!’.

Top 10 Places to Avoid This Summer Holidays

Teachers across the Northern Hemisphere are closing their stationery cupboards, and kicking their feet up on their cheap laminate classroom furniture to sit back sipping martinis. A peaceful silence rings through the empty corridors. The incessant nattering of playground banter is now a distant echo haunting the rooms and bed chambers of family homes. A final sip of the martini glass, and empty vodka bottles in the bottom drawer of the desk, signal it’s time for heading into the real world to make the most of this month long summer break.

One foot places itself down on the concrete pavement outside the school grounds, and it hits; it’s like school never ends. There are kids everywhere!

  1. Footpaths

Like a mob of un-herded cattle escaped from the top paddock, children struggle to have any special awareness when it comes to making space for other pedestrians on the sidewalk. No matter the width of the path, those kids will find a way of filling it. They travel in mobs to boost their self-esteem. If one of them drops behind the main group, or has to step off the pavement to make way for another passer-by, it could be months before they are restored to their original social rank within the gang. Unless you want to be responsible for a young person becoming a societal outcast, keep your feet on the kerb.

  1. Museums

Sure you like dinosaur bones. You’ve liked them since you were a kid – but that’s the very point. Kids love dinosaurs and they are now swarming the corridors of the museums. Yes, they’ve spent the last 11 months bundled up in classrooms learning how to read and write. But now they want to do some real learning to find out why diplodocuses didn’t eat meat; how many Romans stabbed Caesar in the back; and how many croutons in a Caesar salad.

  1. Buses

No one likes public transport at the best of times. But at least if you have the opportunity to catch a bus in the middle of the day, you will normally get a seat. Not during the holidays. The bus is usually the cheaper mode of transport for the penny-pinching youths. In some cases they even get a free ride. Meanwhile, you’re sitting there listening to, their over-amplified earbud headphones pumping out the latest facile drone from The Vamps; unmodulated melodrama from a bunch of teenagers; or the inane chanting of ‘Hail to the Bus Drive Man’ from the local day care group who are off to the Science Museum (which you were supposed to be avoiding, à la point 9)

If you’re really lucky you’ll witness some good old fashioned hoodlumism. I once witnessed a group of young girls verbally laying into a tramp who was sitting quietly at the back of the bus. It escalated into him shouting at them, “I fought for this country” and having to storm off the bus. It’s easy to have a go at a homeless war veteran when your parents are paying for your bus fare.

  1. Airfares

Business is business. Airlines over-inflate their prices during the peak travel period during summer holidays; so it’s best to sail or drive to your end destination. Also, next time you’re banging on about teachers having too many holidays, just remember they’re slowly bankrupting themselves buying hyper-inflated air travel. Spare a thought for this all too common first world problem as you sit in your four-weeks-annual-leave-per-year vinyl office chair. Life is cruel.

  1. Shopping Malls

In the immortal words of the Lano and Woodley song ‘Shoppin’ Town’ it says, “We hang around here every Thursday night, every Friday night and Saturday morning too. We stand around and think of smart-arsed things to do”. Guess what? It’s summer holidays (plus it is sale time at Westfield), so this is going to happen 24/7. There’s no ‘cooler’ place to be than the vast consumerist wasteland that is the hallowed halls of the global corporate overlords. You know that feeling of intimidation as you walk past ashen faced gangs of teens standing around and saying nothing as they leer at you with their vacant eyes – a penny for their thoughts would be a waste of your spare change, even if you’d just been to the 99p store and had copper-plated disc spilling from your purse.

  1. Children’s Hospitals

Visiting a sick child in hospital is a generous use of your time. But when the Sun’s shining and the rest of the family are anxiously waiting for the child to get the all clear, so they can set off on their holiday to Ghana, the concern for these little people is amplified. Normally they’re missing out on school, so there’s silver-lining. But when they’re missing out on making memories, it hits home. So maybe in this case do go to a children’s hospital. At least you may cheer a kid up, instead of them just getting in your way.

  1. Summer Camps

I spent the last two summers teaching English at a summer camp. Numerous people lead summer camps across America. It’s a great way to meet people from around the world and exchange culture. You get paid to do adventure sports, go swimming and generally have a swell time. But all the while there are the children. You never switch off. If you are the chosen one, they’ll come knocking on your door at 3am with soiled pyjama pants. Is this how you want to spend your summer? Giving these whipper-snappers the time of their life? Who’s going to pour cordial for you? The sun will be back behind the clouds by the time that happens.

  1. Beach

The Beach Boys warned us, “won’t be long until summer time is through”. Yet do you want to spend that summer at the seaside where you could get caught in the crossfire of a sand boondie fight; buried under a mermaid-shaped sandcastle while you sleep; or mauled by a baby covered in melted soft-serve? Choose wisely. But make sure you get in when there’s a window of opportunity otherwise it will be, as The Beach Boys also warned, “Summer’s gone, summer’s gone away, gone away”.

  1. Theme Parks

Theme parks are super-fun. But two hours in a queue to ride Space Mountain (and that’s using the fastpass) seems like an excessive use of time that could be spent reading Calvin and Hobbes comics on the beach. Plus you’ll be stuck in a queue making small talk with the same person you’ve been travelling with for the past five days, while being surrounded by ten-year-olds who forgot to relieve themselves before joining the line. If you’d visited the park during a school day you’d have had the place to yourself and probably be sitting in Sleeping Beauty’s castle by now, sipping bottles of Gurgleurp with Donald Duck.

  1. McDonalds

Further to Lano and Woodley’s previous lyrics, their song ‘Shoppin’ Town’ also insists, “We went to Maccas, and all went spaccas, chucked our pickles on the wall, and Peter MacNeil laughed so much he spewed”.

Alternatively you’ll be subjected to the gluttonous behaviour of Japanese teenagers having “potato parties”.

Perhaps even worse, the far corner of the restaurant will be occupied by thirty or more five-year-olds being catered to by a “fully trained party entertainer” as an over-indulged boy named Anthony enjoys his McDonalds’ birthday party.

As the ominous smell of rehydrated fried eggs enters your nasal passage, you’ll be reminded of all the great summers you spent as a kid eating fast food, hanging around in shopping centres, riding rollercoasters, body boarding down the beach, rollerblading in parks, getting stuck in trees, excitedly watching the city skyline from the bus window, caring for your friends, and building cubby houses from furniture. You didn’t notice the crowds back then. Maybe it’s time to get back to having, “fun, fun, fun, in the Sun, Sun, Sun”.

The Boy Next Door – Film Review

That moment when you walk into your classroom and find revenge porn pegged up on the display strings. Oh, to walk a day in Jennifer Lopez’s stiletto heeled shoes.

She must have forgot to look at the script the day she signed on to play a middle aged high school literature teacher. Plus she has a teenage son in this film. When did JLo become old enough to have teenage children? I want my Made in Manhattan JLo back.

What The Boy Next Door lacks in logic, it makes up for in stupidity. There is never really a strong explanation given for boy next door Noah’s (Ryan Guzman) psychopathic stalker tendencies. Although I suppose an element of psychopathy is not having an explanation for your actions.

At face value Noah seems like a moral upstanding young chap, looking after his cancer-ridden uncle; taking JLo’s loser son Kevin (Ian Nelson) under his wing; and making clever references to Homer’s The Odyssey. But this is not good enough reason to sleep with a minor when you’re rebounding from your husband cheating on you. Likewise if you’re going to have an affair with an underage neighbour, make sure you’ve checked inside your antique clocks for hidden cameras that might be recording an incriminating sex tape.

Jennifer Lopez did not heed these sensible precautions and hence when she enters her classroom one fateful morning she finds a series of printed screenshots from the video, hanging from the roof of her classroom. Hanging from the strings where children’s artwork or short stories should be.

Lucky for her she enters the classroom before the students. In this regard the film has accurately portrayed sensible classroom management techniques. A teacher should always enter the room first to establish a position of authority within the room – plus they usually have the keys. In a further stroke of luck, she does not swing the door fully open, thus providing her with the opportunity to say “Give me one second”, shut the door discreetly and dash into the classroom to begin gasping and dramatically tearing down the black and white images, of her extra-marital relations, from the ceiling.

Of course there is a lot of paper to dispose of; and as most teachers know, students get restless if you leave them waiting even long enough for you to write the date on the whiteboard. It’s not long before they’ve called the school principal who begins banging on the door yelling “Mrs Peterson! Mrs Peterson, open this door”. Add to the stress the fact the laser jet printer is still pumping out further copies of the incriminating photo, all over the 1980s brown linoleum tiles.

In the time it takes the principal to find his own set of keys and unlock the door, JLo manages to clear in excess of two hundred A4 sheets of paper, which have been strewn across the room, and place them in the recycling bin. Here lies a rather large teaching faux pas, in that the recycling bin is never the most secure place. I’ve had students rifle through the bin before looking for pieces of work I may have thrown away; confiscated chewing gum I’ve placed in the bin; or torn pages of diaries other students have carelessly left behind. So it seems unwise to leave such a major quantity of photocopies depicting sex with a minor, in a disposal bin without even the simplest padlock.

Nevertheless, rationality, intelligence and common sense are not themes of this film.

Finally the students enter the class, and JLo is given a mild reprimand about punctuality from the principal.

This is merely one example of the many high-octane thrills this film has to offer. So for those of you who enjoy sitting on the edge of your seat watching stationery related psycho-suspense dramas, get yourself a copy of The Boy Next Door. For the rest of you, take a quiet moment to ponder what literary classics JLo would read if she actually was a teacher of classic literature.

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.