The contents of a teacher’s drawer

What confiscated items are in your drawer?

There’s a hacky sack in mine. Two in fact. One generic one, and one commemorating the World Cup Brazil 2014. I remember confiscating them. But I can’t remember which belonged to who. Both children are now claiming the Brazilian one. I tried Solomon’s ‘split the baby’ method. Neither of them cracked. Perhaps the bond between them and the hacky sack was not as strong as a baby and its mother. Or perhaps these children are sociopaths and enjoy seeing each other’s toys destroyed. The hacky sack remains in my drawer.

There are at least ten different writing implements. Some more collectable than others, like the pencil with Disney characters embossed in gold paint. Some are less valuable, like the zebra printed retractable pen. These were all confiscated for being used at the wrong time in the wrong way (probably incessant clicking when I was trying to talk). Plus all the erasers flesh out the collection of back-up stationery. These will never be used by myself or the students. I only write in pen and the students are not allowed erasers, because they tend to use them as a work avoidance tactic; rubbing the page endlessly until there is no pencil marks left on the page, and a 5mm indent has been made into the workbook. This being the case, the erasers must remain in the drawer for time immemorial.

A Justin Bieber ruler has been in the drawer for four years now. It was never confiscated. It was simply abandoned after class one day, and nobody ever claimed it. Either their fandom had waned or they had more self-respect than to admit publicly to ownership of a Justin Bieber ruler. One can’t help but think it ironic that there are measuring devices with Bieber’s face on. It’s doubtful he’s ever had to measure anything except for perhaps how long the length of his hair is. Plus in typical Bieber fashion the ruler has been over exposed (the numbers are mostly faded), cheaply produced (in Taiwan) and doesn’t measure up to expectations (at 15cm long you can’t even rule a proper margin down the page).

I confiscated lip balm in the hallway once. That went in the top drawer. “It’s to stop my lips cracking,” the ten-year-old I took it from told me, while kissing her teeth.

“I understand,” was my response. “But I don’t understand why it is fluorescent purple”.

When she came to retrieve the lip balm a week later, it was gone. Presumably someone else had pilfered it from the drawer. Or perhaps it was just caught up in all the other rogue items stuffed in there and had disguised itself as a pencil sharpener. Either way, I never heard the end of it. Every time I bumped into the girl in the hallway, she reminded me that I owed her three pound to pay for the replacement of the lost lip balm. Luckily a friend who is a chemistry teacher gave me a container of lip balm she’d made with her Year 11 class. I passed it onto the girl three months later. She didn’t notice the difference.

However, the same did not apply when I lost a miniature finger skateboard, back when they were ‘cool’. The untimely tail stops, ollies and Godzilla flips led to the handing over of this prized possession. So prized in fact that it was not in the drawer when I returned the following day. No doubt stolen by an envious peer, if not by the student who owned it; just to make a scene. He made no end to the complaints that his mother had spent ten dollars on the fingerboard, and how would they ever afford to replace it. I couldn’t replace it. I didn’t know any chemistry teachers who made finger skateboards with their Year 11 class.

The following week he arrived in class with a miniature finger scooter. This too was confiscated, but placed in the office safe until it was returned at a later date.

There are other things in my drawer: handmade pea shooters, blue tack, five unopened packets of chewing gum, notes passed between students, a bottle opener, wristwatches and a five pence coin.

What’s in your drawer? Please comment below.

Film Review – Night at The Museum: Secret of the Tomb

Let’s talk about the parenting skills of Larry (Ben Stiller) in the film Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.

His son Nick (Skyler Gisondo) is completing his final exams and about to apply to universities. So when Larry returns home at 3am from a work event, he finds his son holding a house party with over 30 of his mates. It’s a family film, so the debauchery extends to a few polite greetings when Larry enters and the consumption of non-alcoholic punch. But it is still 3am in the morning. You would think Larry should have at least sent his son to stay with his mother for the night, or kept tabs on his son earlier than 3am.

It doesn’t get much better once Larry shuts down the party. Instead of accepting a stern talking to from his father, Nick approaches the situation of cleaning up the apartment by asking his father to fund his gap year and saying, “Let’s call it a night. Let’s not even clean up, right. Let’s come back tomorrow. Let’s reboot the whole energy; the whole tone of this puppy. And we’ll kill it man.”

Far be it for me to tell Larry how to raise his child, but you would think this might be a good time to cut Nick’s allowance off and ground him for a couple of months until his exams are complete. Instead Larry suggests that Nick clean up the mess and they’ll finish the conversation tomorrow.

He doesn’t finish the conversation tomorrow. He takes his son with him on a work trip to London to assist in returning the tablet of Ahkmenrah to its rightful place at the British Museum. Obviously Larry and company didn’t do much research about how the British Museum historically garnered its worldly collection of artefacts, otherwise he’d have questioned why the rightful place for an Ancient Egyptian magical rock was in a class cabinet in the middle of London.

Then, as if the makers of this film haven’t demonstrated enough average parenting skills, the film begins to depict a substantial amount of untruths about the British Museum. These incorrect facts are not just a couple of under-researched history notes, but substantial redesigns to the layout of the museum and the addition of a number of items that do not appear in the museum. The most notable being the inclusion of dinosaur bones, which are housed at the Natural History Museum, not the British Museum.

The British Museum has dedicated an entire page of its website to clearing up some of the confusion. The most damning point made relates to Sir Lancelot being an entirely fictional character. Yet in this film, Lancelot is portrayed as an armoured Downton Abbey dropout – a most racial generalisation. It’s no wonder he aims to sabotage the entire operation.

The redemption, for what is actually quite a comedic jaunt, is the concluding scenes with Larry and Nick, where the son explains that he’s going to Ibiza to pursue his career as a DJ. They both state their love for each other, hug and walk off into the snow. It’s heart-warming to know that when you’re losing direction in life, you can always convince your parents you’ll find meaning by DJ-ing a seedy nightclub until 6am on a Spanish island.

Kid #18 – Dealing with stubborn children and indignation

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

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

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

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

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

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

How wrong I was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kid #17 – Compromising Contraceptives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you want a condom?” she cackled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kid #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 #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.