Kid #15 – How a silly name might affect your child.

The fifteenth kid I hated had a misspelt name.

Names can be spelt whichever which way people prefer, one would suppose. But you know the sort of names that everyone spells one way and then some chump parent decides to reinvent the wheel and add an extra vowel, replace an ‘i’ with a ‘y’ or spell the entire thing backwards. This child had one of those names. He won’t be named here, but it was similar to when ‘Geoffrey’ is spelt ‘Jeffrey’; or ‘Ashley’ is spelt ‘Ashleigh’; or ‘Sam’ is spelt ‘Psam’; or ‘Polly’ is spelt ‘Potato’.

Long story short, his name had been incorrectly constructed. If it had been spelt correctly it would have been close in meaning to ‘doing the right thing for the greater good’. Unfortunately this was not reflected in the child’s personality.

At first glance, he was a very charming child. All smiles and “how are you sir?”, “what can I do to help sir?” etc. He participated in class discussions and completed most of his work efficiently. Perhaps he was too smart for the other students or had some attention deficit. Either way, the pleasantries soon started to change in tone. They didn’t disappear. But there appeared to be a cunning flicker behind the fire in his eyes.

He was a Year Eight student, which at the time meant it was his first year at high school. He was exuding a particular over-confidence which was perhaps to intimidate his peers. While his contemporaries looked like deer in the headlights, he began to strut around as though he was Riff from West Side Story. He was the ‘the Fonz’ of Year 8. The boys steered clear of him and the girls swooned.

And then there was all the weird stuff where I assume he was trying to find his true self. For example he painted his finger nails and wore eyeliner. Also the more the girls swooned, the more camp he became, which did not seem to deter them in the slightest. Additionally, this was all happening around the time Hug a Ginger Day, National Kick a Ranga Day and Say Sorry to a Ranga Day was becoming a big thing (it is still a big thing, right?). So life was confusing. So confusing he dyed his hair jet black.

But chameleon tendencies were merely a mask for his thinly veiled contempt for the system. As he became more and more preoccupied with his vanity, he became less and less occupied with the task at hand. The quality of his work began to slip. His attitude towards anyone who wasn’t a female 13-year-old, became loathsome. It was all eye-rolling, slouched shoulders and foot dragging.

When I confronted him on his manners, that’s when things would escalate. He’d get his usual warnings. Then it would be a move to an isolated desk at the front of the room. Sometimes the desk was moved into the hallway. He’d usually be asked to move the chair, which would result in a lot of banging and clanging, while he made sure the chair ricocheted off every hard piece of furniture in his path.

It was the real, “I don’t care what you do to me, because everybody hates me,” attitude.

I suppose he was, what someone from the mid-noughties may have called, an ‘Emo’ (emotional human being). I don’t know what name these characters go by currently.

Placing a agitated bald eagle in a cardboard box would have been easier than trying to get this child to work. I tried all sorts; complimenting him on his dubious appearance; scolding him about his attitude; commending him on his insightful arguments; giving him the death whisper when he spoke out of turn. Nothing was working.

Most other staff had trouble with him, too. He had trouble with himself. The world was against him. There was a chip on his shoulder threatening to tear through the cheap fabric of the tight-fitting T-shirts he presumably wore on weekends. If he wasn’t looking into a mirror, he was looking out of one wondering why everyone surrounding him enjoyed life and didn’t reflect the melancholy vibes back to him. Basically it was your usual run-of-the-mill teen angst, but with skinny jeans and a misshapen haircut.

His moaning defiant self-awareness haunted my dreams. He was the child who was getting under my skin. Maybe it was because I had seen his full potential in the first instance, and was upset about his decline in attitude. More likely it was the constant distraction and disruption he was causing to the classroom as his fashion sense became more outrageous and his attention seeking quips about everything from politics to narrative plot structure became the entire focus of the class. I wondered whether things would have been different had his parents given him a sensible name like ‘John’.

I was losing control. All because of one puny post-punk.

The inevitable outcome is a bit blurry. I think eventually I went for the old fashioned trick of turning some of the other students against him, so he’d pull into line. There was still a select bunch he would listen to.

It was early days for my teaching though. I’m getting better at spotting these characters; the ones who begin high school looking like they’re out of a Pumpkin Patch catalogue, then three months later look as though they’ve been kicked out of a Lady Gaga concert, with an attitude to match Justin Bieber’s pet monkey.

If I had my time again I’d probably be more compassionate to the child’s self-pity and provide better boundaries. But if we met again, I doubt I’d swap Fall Out Boy albums with him.

Kid #12 – When manual arts go mad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How we should speak with children

Sitting on the bus this morning, I could overhear a mother jabbering away to her young daughter of about three. The daughter didn’t have much to say, but the mother kept on.

She asked questions about how long their bus ride would take; where she thought all the people lining the streets were going (they were going to the Chelsea Flower Show); what flowers she liked the most; what she would like to do when they got to the Science Museum; whether she could remember when the Science Museum opened.

She told her daughter about what the girl’s sister and father would be spending their day doing; her own conversation with a taxi driver, the day before; what she thought would be happening at the Chelsea Flower Show.

The mother spoke with her offspring as an intellectual equal.

The daughter sat quietly most of the time, gazing intently out the window to her city, then providing simple one word answers to most of the questioning. Her answers were plain, but she was being exposed to a world of language, thoughts and most importantly engaging with the world around her.

To provide our children with access to their world is tantamount. That they can provide answers to adults’ complex questions, gives them confidence. Interacting with space and time in a real world sense gives children solid grounding for their understanding of numbers when they attend school.

Sure the young girl’s main priority was arriving at the museum to learn about science and blow bubbles.

Yet the mother’s priority was to make every minute count; every moment an experience; every thought special.

Love your children. Love Learning. Love Life.

Kid #9 – Fast food, moods and fones

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

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

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

The phone would be my undoing.

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

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

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

Teacher – “Please put your phone away.”

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

Teacher – “Please put the phone away.”

Student – “I’m doing it.”

Teacher – “Please put the phone away.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sir, sir! My dad’s outside.”

“I can’t see him.”

“He’s in his car.”

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

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

“He has my lunch sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kid #8 – Walk of Shame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And of course there were plenty of others…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kid #7 – Psychopathic Tendencies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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